Sunday, May 30, 2010

Super Bowl In KC: Don't Count On It

In November of 2005, then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that Kansas City would be awarded a Super Bowl between 2012 and 2021, contigent upon Arrowhead Stadium being a climate-controlled facility by that time. It was later stated that 2015 was the likely year KC would get the big game.

As most of us remember, the rolling roof proposal on the April 2006 ballot was rejected by Jackson County, Missouri voters, who may have been negatively swayed by the mostly confusing details in the measure, the mere thought of raising taxes for one game, and the fear of the roof being overused during the regular season. The Chiefs later withdrew their request for the game after the proposal failed to even make it on the ballot the following November.

As most of you have heard by now, Tuesday, current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league has awarded the 2014 Super Bowl to the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold weather region.*

*While risky, I think the cold-weather Super Bowl idea is a good move by the league. I don't think it should be held in a cold weather region every year, though. Goodell should implement a Super Bowl rotation including, but not limited to all cities with NFL teams that are capable of hosting and based upon stadium upkeep and attendance during the season. From the preseason on through the playoffs, every game played outdoors has the possibilty of the elements coming into play, and the Super Bowl should be no different.

Because of the obvious precedent being set here, there has been a buzz among Kansas City fans and talk-show hosts that the city should be reconsidered for the 2015 game, or sometime soon after.

I completely agree. I'm also sure it won't happen.

First of all, after the original announcement, Goodell made it clear that a precedent was not being set, instead citing the uniqueness of the New York/New Jersey area combined with the chance at making history. While the translation of that is not completely known, we are fairly certain it has something to do with the health of his bank account.

Since then, though, Goodell seemed more open to the idea of other cold weather cities hosting the game, saying it would depend on the success of the game in New York. While that makes plenty of sense, it would surely delay any chance for the game to be held in KC until, at the very earliest, 2018, because of the voting process taking place several years in advance.

If Goodell does get serious about allowing more cold weather cities to host, KC faces another series of obstacles. The promise was made to the late Lamar Hunt, and the Chiefs are now run by his son, Clark. There has been no definite indication of whether Clark would even be on board for a Super Bowl in KC, other than his natural support of his father's push for the rolling roof measure to pass in 2006.

Also, when the league promised KC the game, Tagliabue was running things. Goodell has no obligation to follow through on any promises made by the former commissioner, especially considering varying circumstances are involved.

So, naturally there will be plenty of campaiging by some of the other teams and owners for the game to come to their respective cities. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has already made it clear he would love for the game to come to the D.C. area.

ESPN Radio host and Sportscenter anchor Mike Greenberg has already suggested, "...the one place they have to play the Super Bowl (is) Lambeau Field."

While you may agree with Greenberg's thoughts on Lambeau, his opinion means little alone. However, as a whole, ESPN has much more influence than anyone east of here would like to admit. The network, with its studios located in Bristol, Connecticut, might as well have been campaigning for the Super Bowl to come to New York, and still hasn't ended its week-long celebration for their wish coming true.*

*There is speculation that the letters E-S-P-N actually stand for Eastcoast Sports Programming Network.

Anyway, with that thought in mind, what makes Kansas Citians believe their city would be considered before Washington, Philadelphia, or even Baltimore? How about Gillette Stadium in New England? Patriots' owner Robert Kraft is a longtime friend of Goodell, and Gillette Stadium is less than ten years old.

The point is, there will be plenty of discussion and persuasion as to where the Super Bowl should go next, and why it makes perfect sense for certain cities. I'm not sure KC would get much support in these such talks, at least among national media outlets.

Really, the timing of the renovations for Arrowhead, which passed on the same ballot the rolling roof question appeared on, could not have been worse for supporters of a KC Super Bowl. The NFL tends to reward teams who renovate or build new stadiums with the game. The original promise by Tagliabue was with the thought of a renovated Arrowhead in mind.

If this trend continues and is combined with the league's openness to cold weather sites, my prediction is KC will be passed up by other cities. The Arrowhead renovations will be more or less forgotten by the league, and bigger cities - located on the east coast or not - with new stadiums will make a better case to the league and its owners.

Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver is less than ten years old. The Broncos have had much more success than the Chiefs in recent years, resulting in a greater league-wide popularity and following for the Donkeys. Also, Denver is more populous than KC. I can't think of one reason why the owners would find KC a better fit for the big game than Denver.

The Vikings are ready to build a new stadium in Minneapolis. All the same reasons apply here as for the Denver comparison. KC is outmatched.

It's also likely that many owners with outdated stadiums will use the New York example to lure their cities' residents into helping pay for new stadiums. The competition for KC would grow even greater, and the likelihood of the Super Bowl happening at Arrowhead would go from somewhat of a longshot to an absolute miracle.

It's ironic, really, that the Super Bowl in New York news is what led to the KC Super Bowl discussions being rehashed, but after looking deeper, it's likely the breakthrough vote has all but killed KC's chances of getting the game.

The odds just don't seem to be in KC's favor, and it's really a shame. The city and its extremely loyal fans have been long-starved of any great news on the professional sports front, and the opportunity to host the Super Bowl could have been the perfect remedy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yost Can't Hide Team's Flaws Forever

As it turns out, there is one thing new Royals' manager Ned Yost has in common with his predecessor, Trey Hillman. That, of course, is the inability to win with the best pitcher in baseball on the mound.

After putting together easily their best stretch of baseball this season thus far, having won seven of nine, the Royals dropped their last two to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend, including an 11-7 loss on Sunday with Zack Greinke on the mound.

If you knew before the day began the Royals would score seven runs with their ace on the mound, you'd have felt pretty confident in their chances for victory. Instead, Greinke gave up eight runs, seven of them earned, and couldn't get out of the fourth inning. It was just the second time all season he's allowed more than three earned runs in a start.*

The worst part is that Greinke is 1-5 now, and the Royals are 2-8 in his starts this season. Not good.

*Not that it applied today, but the Royals' usual failure to give Greinke run support is staggering. In eight of his ten starts, he's given up three runs or less. If you concede that he deserved to lose the other two games, and that about one in every eight times a pitcher gives up three runs or less he should still lose, then you'd conclude the Royals should be 7-3 in his starts. And the timing of the Royals finally giving him decent run support on the day of his worst outing of the season is impeccable. It's creative losing, sure, but it's losing baseball, nonetheless.

. . .

There wasn't much to speak of in Saturday's game. The Royals were shutout 3-0 in just the second start of the season for Rockies' lefty Jeff Francis.

Francis still proved to be effective even after coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for all of last season. He was a big part of the Rockies' improbable run to the World Series in 2007, winning 17 games that year. He's lost some velocity on his pitches, though that may have helped him Saturday. Ever since I can remember, the Royals have always struggled mightily against soft-tossing south paws, and that again reigned true against Francis.*

*Jamie Moyer comes to mind here. He's probably the most famous finesse lefty of our era, or the era before ours - he's 47 - and he seems to always dominate the Royals. He has a 14-9 career record against KC, and three of his ten career complete-game shutouts are against the Royals.

Of course, having two runners picked-off on the base paths doesn't help a lineup already filled with holes, nor does it help the effort to prove to the fans that the team is improving in the post-Hillman era. Sunday's game gave us more to think about, though.

. . .

With the team having the day off on Monday, I was a bit surprised to see Yost sit two of his regular starters Sunday. Mike Aviles and Scott Podsednik were given the day off, with Chris Getz and Willie Bloomquist replacing them, respectively.

Now, theoretically, it didn't hurt the team, with the Royals posting seven runs in the game. I don't see the logic, though. It's getaway day, so if anyone needs a day off, they'll get one tomorrow. There's a chance to win another series. Your best pitcher is on the mound, and you can't seem to ever win when he pitches. Wouldn't you want to be at full strength for this one?

Come to think of it, unless there was something life-threatening going on, if you were manager of the Royals, wouldn't you want your lineup to be at full strength... every day?*

*Before I go on, I want to point out that I don't mean to knock Bloomquist. I like Willie Bloomquist. And as the great Joe Posnanski once said, after stating, 'I like so and so,' what almost always follows are negative statements about so and so.

I do think there is a place for players like Bloomquist on good baseball teams. Therein lies the problem, though. The Royals are not good. Season after season, they fail to field a solid starting group, and are forced to play utility-types like Bloomquist all too often.

Naturally, the fan reaction toward the player is mostly negative, though it's to no fault of the player. Bloomquist was signed to be a guy who can help off the bench in a pinch. That was his role during his time in Seattle. When forced out of that role, his weaknesses are more obvious and exposed.

Because of their misuse of him, Bloomquist has been mostly unpopular so far in Kansas City after being one of the most popular players in Seattle. Anyway, the Royals are 1-10 now when Bloomquist starts, and I don't think that's just a coincidence.

So after two virtually clean innings, Greinke gave up a two-out, three-run home run in the third to former A.L. MVP and steroid user Jason Giambi, which seemed to set the tone. The Rockies were right back at it in the fourth, and after just 65 pitches, Greinke's day was over.

One of the runs did come unearned thanks to Yuniesky Betancourt. The frustration with Betancourt from fans and people within the organization has been well documented. He has limitless potential, and shows us that with flashes of greatness from time to time.

He just refuses to be a consistent team player, though, as he showed us Sunday with his weekly "Why do we love Yuni?" reminder in the fourth inning. On a tailor made double play grounder, instead of tossing the ball to Getz covering second, Betancourt decided to roll the ball to him. No outs were recorded on the play and it was ruled an error. Two more runs scored in the inning, and Greinke was done soon after.

I was somewhat surprised of how short of a leash Yost had on Greinke today. I know he struggled, but Greinke exited after giving up seven runs. The Royals eventually clawed back into the game, scoring seven runs themselves, but the bullpen allowed four more to cross the plate over the next five plus innings, and the Royals comeback fell short.

Yost seemed determined to give his relievers some work with the day off Monday, and I get that. It would have been interesting to see the game play out had Greinke been allowed to pitch his way through the fourth inning, though.

The game certainly had plenty of entertainment value with a couple of rarities occuring. Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo led off the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back triples. The question there had to be which is less likely - a team starting an inning with back-to-back triples, or the fact that one of the triples was legged out by Jose Guillen?

Guillen has to be one of the two or three slowest players in baseball. What's more absurd was, judging by the replay, Guillen was trotting to first base because he thought he had a home run. To think, with a little more hustle, we could have been talking about an inside-the-park home run by Guillen. Scary stuff.

Also, on the play, Rockies' center fieler Dexter Fowler lost his glove over the wall trying to catch Guillen's blast. No one on the Royals' ground crew or security staff seemed interested in helping Fowler fetch his glove, so he eventually jumped the fence and got it himself.

When watching the Royals, specifically when they're losing (so most of the time), it's refreshing to have things happen during the game that you don't see every day. The suspense in waiting for Fowler to reappear after he hopped the center field wall was possibly the highlight of the game.

. . .

The Royals have shown us just how easily it is to fall back into the vicious cycle that is bad baseball these last couple of games. In the ninth, new Royals' third base coach Eddie Rodriguez decided to honor the legacy of recently fired third base coach Dave Owen by getting baserunner Mitch Maier thrown out at home in a four-run game.

No matter how you look at it, if the Royals were to come back from the four-run deficit, Maier would have scored, anyway. I could see the value in the risk earlier in the game, where you don't necessarily need all the runs in one inning. But in the ninth, down four runs, with the alternative to sending Maier being having runners at second and third with one out, you have to wonder what Rodriguez was thinking.

It's probably best that these mistakes and deficiencies show their ugly faces now rather than later. Yost has to understand it's impossible to win consistently with guys like Bloomquist, Betancourt, and Getz in the starting lineup. He must demand that ownership give him more talent to work with next season, and refuse to accept a long-term position as manager if it doesn't come.

Any victories in the meantime will just disguise the embarrasing reality of how bad things still remain with the Royals.

*I was saddened by the news this morning of former big league pitcher Jose Lima's passing. I was at Kauffman Stadium for Lima's first game with the Royals in 2003. The Royals started that season 16-3, but hit a slump and fell below .500 coming into that Sunday afternoon game. Lima led the Royals to victory that day over Barry Bonds' Giants, and would go on to string seven consecutive victories together, helping the team build a seven-game lead in the division by the All-Star break. He was a fun player to watch, and apparently was a great teammate. I wish there were more players like him on the diamond today. He was 37.

Thanks to for the image.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hillman Exits With Class

The detachment between professional athletes and coaches and their fans is greater than ever. The players are making gobs of money that most of us could only ever dream about. In the youtube and twitter era we've fallen into, coaches and players have become extremely robotic and predictable in their choice of words to the fans and media in fear of the negative backlash their honesty could result in.

In turn, we've somewhat become trained to view them as if they're actually robots. When Peyton Manning throws an interception or LeBron James misses a shot, it's completely unacceptable. The cheers turn to boos in no time, and happy fans turn into savage, bloodthirsty monsters whose hunger can only be satisfied by more victories and championships. We're relentless.

As fans, we forget that the people we're bashing and criticizing are fathers and mothers and daughters and sons and so on. Really, we forget they are human beings.

Every once in awhile as fans, we're put in awkward positions because of this. The human being inside an athlete or coach will show for a moment. Sometimes a player will cry after winning it all. A coach will cuss out a reporter after a tough game. And sadly, there are times when a player or coach becomes ill and has to leave the sport, possibly for good.

When this happens, as fans, we come to an odd realization. Things are put in perspective. It's almost a feeling of guilt. Or shame.

I found myself feeling that way today while watching Trey Hillman's final press conference as manager of the Kansas City Royals.

This was obviously a tough decision for General Manager Dayton Moore.* When he made the initial announcement, he was choking up and had to stop at one point to collect himself. Moore handpicked Hillman from Japan where he had much success, and promised Royals fans that the two together would be the key to the organization finally turning the corner.

*This decision may not have been Moore's at all. My guess was Moore prefered to let Hillman's contract run out at the end of this year, and then not retain him. There's a lot of speculation as to whether or not the manager's firing came straight from the top. While some may see this as a good sign, possibly that owner David Glass is showing he won't tolerate losing, I see it differently. If Glass wants to show us he wants to win, it's time to open up the checkbook and raise the payroll. Stepping on Moore's toes and trying to do his job for him only shows that Glass has no clue how to run a successful operation. Of course, we already have Wal-Mart as evidence of that.

This was Moore's first hire, let's not forget. The tears in his eyes were mostly because he had to fire someone who had become his friend, but also because today was the official public admission that his first major organizational decision was a mistake. Hiring and firing managers is something only unsuccessful general managers get in a habit of doing. By firing Hillman, Moore has put the pressure and potential blame solely on himself, at least in the eyes of ownership. If the tide doesn't turn soon, he'll surely be next.

It was surreal watching Hillman address the Kansas City media for the last time. I mean, we all knew this day would come, but few of us thought it would be this quick.

His eyes were watery and his voice scratchy, but his head was held high. The manager whose job we've been calling for since mid-last season finally opened up to us. He told us how he and Moore had talked late last night, after a shutout loss to the Indians and the Royals' seventh in a row, about how it was probably time for a change. He spoke of going out on top, so after the official decision was made this morning, he vowed to manage his last game today in hopes of leaving with a victory.

He also talked about how new manager (at least for the rest of this season) Ned Yost will have a clean slate to work with; Hillman didn't want any of the ex-manager's stuff sitting around the office for Yost to work around, and he was hoping to get started cleaning his things out right after the press conference.

He thanked many people, mostly insiders and coaches within the organization and around the league. Somewhat surprisingly, he thanked the media, too. You could really feel that the man just had the weight of the world taken off his shoulders. Hillman never spoke with such freedom in his pre- and post-game interviews, and maybe that's part of why things went south.

He made it clear he felt better days would come for the Royals, sooner rather than later. He so desperately wanted to be the man to turn the Royals around, and probably put too much pressure on himself in the process.

Anyway, though, Hillman left the Royals today with class.

The guilt I felt today was not because of my or anyone else's criticism of the manager. He was deserving of most-to-all of it.

The guilt stems from the shock I felt when Hillman spoke today. I saw a person and not a machine. He spoke differently. He was unrecognizable. It was almost eerie. I had forgotten that beyond the uniform and the manager and the baseball machine was just a man. No longer having to choose his words carefully, he was refreshingly honest. It's something that doesn't happen very often, and as a fan, you really have to appreciate and savor it.

After the meeting with Moore this morning, Hillman told only his wife of the bad news. The other coaches and players had no idea what was about to happen. Somehow though, they played like they knew.

Down three runs with another wasted Zack Greinke start looming, the Royals stormed back for a 6-4 victory. Greinke picked up his first win of the year. The team seemed to be playing with a little heart - it was weird. There were smiles all around, and there were no sacrifice bunts to be seen. Even Hillman was smiling more than usual. We should have sensed the end was near.

It seems only fitting everything would come together in the last game for a manager who saw things almost never play out the way he wanted. Now, Hillman has plenty of time to reflect on the majority of the other 300 or so games that didn't go well as he says goodbye and good luck to a team and city that could certainly use some.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hillman May Be Ready to Move On

I think Trey Hillman is ready to be done. I can feel it.

The manager of the Royals looks tired. He looks confused. When his decisions are questioned, he seems to get defensive, and there's a look about him that gives you the feeling he may not really want to manage this team anymore.

Royals fans have seen this before.

The Royals just completed their longest road trip of the season, after a 6-4 loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. They went 3-8 on the trip, including getting swept in a four game series by Texas, and have currently lost five straight. They now find themselves, somehow, ten games under .500 at 11-21, last in the A.L. Central and 11.5 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins.

Yep. Sounds familiar.

Obviously, it's not all Hillman's fault. Not even close. The numerous bad free-agent signings made by GM Dayton Moore in the last couple of off-seasons have been well documented. The failure to develop sure-thing prospects certainly can't be blamed on the manager, either. The talent on the current major league roster is average at best.

Nevertheless, the Royals aren't average. They're not even bad. Ten games under .500 after five weeks of the season is horrendous.

Yet they're still third in the A.L. in hitting. The bullpen has somewhat seemed to settle down. Their starters are giving them a chance to win at, the very least, an average rate. So what gives?

Inevitably, yet fairly, we must look to the manager.

. . .

I found Saturday night's game versus Texas an especially frustrating one to watch.

Let's jump to the top of the seventh inning. It's a tie game. The Royals have a runner at third, two outs, and first baseman Kila Ka'aihue, getting his first start of the season, is due up. There's a lefty on the mound, and Kila is a left-handed hitter. Hillman had given Jose Guillen the night off, so he's available to pinch hit. Hillman does use Guillen as a pinch hitter, and he fails to drive the run in.

Now, if you're down by one or two runs in that situation, it seems pretty obvious to me that you send Guillen up to hit. He's your best power hitter and can tie the game or take the lead with one swing.

In a tie game though, there are many cons to that decision. Firstly, if you need a pinch hit later in the game, possibly in extra innings as the game looked to be destined for, you no longer have Guillen available. Secondly, unless you want to take Guillen's bat out of the lineup for the rest of the game, you have to put him in the field somewhere, and I can't figure anyone liking the idea of that.

Hillman chose to leave Guillen in the game and put him in right field, moving David DeJesus to left field, and moving Scott Podsednik from left field to center field. That forced Mitch Maier (who had made two spectacular plays in the game at center field already) to move to first base.

Maier, an above-average center fielder, had never played first base in a major league game before Saturday. DeJesus hadn't played left field since last season. And, of course, Guillen has proven to be worthy of the designated hitter role eternally.

Now, all the sudden, the Royals had four players (including Podsednik) who are either below average at their position or haven't played the position they're at this season - and of course, in Maier's case, any season.

The alternative to all this defensive shuffling would have been to simply use Willie Bloomquist in place of Guillen after his pinch hit at-bat, and put him at first base where Ka'aihue was playing. You then have generally your best defensive lineup in for the game's final few innings. More on that in a moment.

. . .

It's the bottom of the eighth now, and Gil Meche is easily having his best pitching performance of the season. He's already over 100 pitches, though. Given his injury history, it's a mere certainty Hillman will go to the bullpen now. Also, Meche has struggled all season, and it's important for him to leave the game on a good note.

Oddly, Hillman chooses to stay with Meche for the eighth. The first batter walks. It's the sixth free pass he's given out on the night. The camera moves to Hillman, who looks ready to walk out of the dugout and pull Meche. Usually, when managers stretch their starters this long, it only takes a baserunner to get the hook.

Instead, Hillman stays with Meche. The baserunner is caught stealing, so the decision seems to be vindicated, at least for the moment. The next batter walks. It's Meche's seventh of the game. The camera goes to Hillman, who again remains in the dugout. Two arms are ready in the bullpen if the manager needs them. Not yet, though.

The next hitter reaches on an infield single. Now there's two on and one out. The game is tied, and hot hitting Vladimir Guerrero is coming to the plate. This time Hillman comes out to talk to Meche, whose pitch count now is roughly 120. Hillman decides to stay with Meche.

Meche gets Guerrero on a fly out. There's two out now, and it's starting to look like the Royals may just get out of this jam. Meche needs one more.

Now remember all that defensive shuffling a minute ago? This is when the decision to leave Guillen in the game (or use him as a pinch hitter at all) will come back to haunt Hillman. The next hitter, former Mizzou star Ian Kinsler, hits a line-drive to right. The ball looks catchable. The ball is catchable. Guillen runs in toward it. It looks like he can get to it. He doesn't. The ball drops, and by the replay, it looks as if it almost hit Guillen on the top of his cleats.

Royals fans collectively groan. It's probably a safe assumption that DeJesus would have gotten to the ball, but you never know. Either way, the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run scores. Another winnable game ends in a losing effort.

. . .

This is the life of the manager of the Kansas City Royals. When at a disadvantage talent-wise, the game management is under an even bigger microscope. Questionable decisions will often backfire. Worst-case scenarios become reality. The losses begin to weigh on the city and the team. Most of all, though, the losses take their toll on the manager, and there's only the next decision, next game, or next season for a chance at redemption.

It's likely the opportunity for Hillman has come and gone, and I get the sense he's okay with that.

*Thanks to and Tony Gutierrez of for the images.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Conventional Wisdom Could Be the Problem

There's an interesting section of The Kansas City Star's website that has kind of gone under my radar for the first month of the season. It's called 'Judging the Royals', and it's based on a somewhat unorthodox system used to judge the Royals, mostly individually, over the course of the season.

The system is based off the 'Most Valuable Player' chart created some three decades ago by Coach Ron Polk, a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and the winningest coach in SEC history. After tweaking the system a bit with the help of Polk, Star contributor Lee Judge launched the updated system and site before the start of the current Royals season.

You can check it out for yourself, but basically, as Polk explains, "the system is designed to reward good baseball, hustle, and effort while punishing giving away free bases through walks and errors."

It seems pretty obvious, to me at least, that most coaches in baseball would already be preaching this type of attitude and philosophy on a daily basis, anyway. But not so fast.

The system's biggest influence, for pitchers anyway, is to throw strikes. The system does not punish hits. It punishes walks, especially lead-off walks to start an inning, worse than, say, a pitcher who gives up four runs or more in an appearance. Polk's opinion is that he can live with whatever happens when a pitcher throws strikes. He knows that with that, his pitchers will give up hits, and he can live with that.

"He's focused on effort and approach, not results, because he knows if the effort is correct, over time, the results will be there," Judge says.

The system also recognizes things that would go unnoticed in a box score. It rewards a catcher for not allowing a runner to advance by blocking a pitch in the dirt. There are also point categories for making a tough play look easy and mental mistakes - Billy Butler are you listening - that may have caused another teammate to commit an error.

I guess my point is that it's a shame that this isn't considered conventional wisdom in baseball, or at least with the Royals. It's a shame any of us could get this impressed by a system that seems so simple and obvious. Having watched the Royals lose the way they have (because of the bullpen) for the first month of this season, and really, for the last two decades, you just have to wonder what's really going on with this team.

How many lead-off walks does it take? How many failed sacrifices or unproductive outs or missed cut-off men does it take? Is it not time to buy into unconventional wisdom, or should we wait for another ten years of losing before considering alternatives?

Manager Trey Hillman cannot afford to wait. This is the last year of Hillman's contract and it's decision time for General Manager Dayton Moore. If Moore decides to offer Hillman a contract extension, it could ultimately end up costing both of them their jobs. If Moore decides to fire Hillman, then, well, Coach Polk, are you available?

Anyway, on to the game..

The Royals found a way to waste ANOTHER great start by pitcher Zack Greinke today, losing 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. It's really come to the point where I would seriously not be surprised if we woke up tomorrow to hear that Greinke has quit baseball again.

I only had one beef with the way Hillman managed this one. First though, it's worth noting that he didn't have much to work with as the Royals only managed three hits off Rays rookie starting pitcher Wade Davis.*

*Why does it seem like the Royals always make rookie starting pitchers look like Cy Young Award winners? Since I can remember, it has always been a sign of bad things to come when I hear the Royals are facing a rookie, or even just facing a guy for the first time. On the other hand, it never seems to bode well for the Royals when they run out an unprepared rookie pitcher for the first time. Hmm.

Still, in the second inning, with two on, and nobody out, Hillman chose to bunt with Jason Kendall to advance the runners. Kendall popped the bunt up for an out, though, and the runners stayed put. The Royals, obviously given the final score, didn't score in the inning.

You may remember my blog about playing for the big inning versus small ball. The general point there was that, over the course of a season, trying to sacrifice runners ends up costing a team runs (and wins) over the long haul because the chances of getting a big inning are lowered after handing the opponent an out.

Now, let's fast forward to the seventh inning. At this point, the Rays are up 1-0, but the Royals have a runner at second with nobody out, and Mitch Maier is at the plate. My overall opinion about playing small ball is that, if you're going to use it, it should only be used in the seventh inning or later, in a one-run or tie game.

Let's not worry about my opinion, though. Regardless of what I think, Hillman has already played small ball once in the game, and most managers would tell you that if you're ever going to use it, now is the time. Mitch Maier has good bat control and the Royals desperately need a run. This is when you forgo the big inning to make sure and tie the game.

Hillman, instead, opted this time to let the hitter swing away. As we know, it did not end well, as the next three Royal hitters failed to come through. The Royals lost the game. Zack Greinke lost the game, and is now 0-3 with a 2.27 ERA. What's worse is the Royals are now 1-5 in his starts.* Ugh.

*I could go on about the Royals absolute WASTE of the best pitcher in baseball, but that has already been well documented by Joe Posnanski in the Star and on his blog. You really have to check it out, it's stunning.

Back to the point. The Royals offense today, while struggling, still had an opportunity to get a run or two if they could have just made the most of their opportunities. Managers in baseball absolutely love putting their stamp on the game, though some would argue that baseball is the sport where coaching has the least to do with the outcome. Actually, that's probably why most baseball managers jump at the chance to make an impact in the game.

Anyway, today, when presented with the opportunity on two different occasions, Hillman made the wrong decision in both instances. I'm not saying the Royals lost because of Hillman. The Royals lost for many reasons, and when you get three hits and lose 1-0, it's hard to blame the loss on the manager. But with the talent disadvantage the Royals seem to be at, it will be absolutely impossible for them to win with Hillman's odd and inconsistent decision-making, like we saw today.