Tuesday, September 04, 2007

O-Royals wrapup, and Bannister for RoY

- Is it just me, or were the Omaha Royals really, really good this year? I talked to a lot of different types of people in Omaha this summer, and it seems like most people had no idea what the O-Royals were doing. People still see them -- and the Royals organization in general -- as some kind of joke. It felt like those of us who were at Rosenblatt every night were the only ones who realized what was going on.

The team finished at over .500 with a record of 73-71. Though they had major issues on the road (especially in June when their House was occupied by the College World Series), they posted a fantastic record of 45-27 at home.

And what a shame; those who weren't in on this fun year at the 'Blatt may never know this team that made me fall in love with AAA baseball. My e-friend Micah touched on this idea in her blog, and I've thought about it quite a bit myself. It's hard to think about right now, but I know that a lot of the guys I saw every day in Omaha are not going to be around anymore when I go back for another season as a promotions chick there. Some should be in the Majors, and some will have been traded. I don't know if I necessarily want a whole new crop of players; I rather liked the ones we had!

Take, for example, Mike Aviles. He should be in the Majors right now. And he's under the impression that the club doesn't like him. He should be with an organization that will give him a shot, and as far as I know he'll be a free agent this winter so he likely won't be around. How sad. Mikey batted around .300 for the whole season at Omaha, including 17 homers, and knocked in 77 RBI. I know I'm not the only person who thinks he's too good for the Minors; I've heard people who know baseball far better than I do say that Aviles should be in a KC uniform, not an Omaha one.

Speaking of people who were snubbed in this round of September callups, why won't KC give Matt Wright the chance to appear in the bigs for a while? Actually...never mind. Now that I really look at his numbers, I see how much he struggled in the 2nd half, although I still think he was an underrated part of an excellent Omaha rotation. He's the guy who can rack up strikeouts the way most Royals pitchers haven't been able to do the last few years.

I guess now is as good a time as any to finally share some highlights from the O-Royals 2007 home season, since Aviles and Wright each figured prominently in several of them. In no particular order:

April 29: Gathright's flight
No one has ever questioned the idea that Joey Gathright is fast. The sky is blue, Shaq is tall, Joey Gathright is fast. But on April 29, a hot Sunday afternoon, Gath showed that he's beyond fast; he's inhuman. Omaha had won three in a row against the Nashville Sounds, and was looking for a 4-game sweep. Omaha was down by one in the bottom of the 9th, and Gathright had made his way to second base with one out. Shane Costa hit a fly ball to medium-depth right-center that would have moved most runners to third, and...Joey scored. From 2nd. Center fielder Callix Crabbe (one of my favorite MiLB names of the year) made a pretty decent throw, but no outfielder's arm could stand up to a runner whose speed rivals that of light. Omaha went on to win that game in extras on a walk-off home run by Justin Huber. (OK, so that one was like 2 highlights in one. It was a good game to cap off a great series.)

July 14: 15 innings
I should have known better than to make plans around the O-Royals. I take full responsibility for this game going as long as it did. For whatever reason, this game against the Iowa Cubs went into extras in a 4-all tie. In the top of the 10th, Iowa had a bit of offense going, but Mike Aviles flashed some fantastic leather to start a double play to end that. The pitchers on both sides were impressive until the 14th, when Iowa got a runner on again with one out. Again it was Aviles with the heroic double play to keep it tied for the Royals. In a game that long, the crowd's energy waxes and wanes. In the 9th, everyone is excited, hoping their team can walk off with the win. In the 10th through 14th or so, people start getting tired. But when Omaha got some baserunners going in the fifteenth inning, the Rosenblatt crowd got excited again. Omaha loaded the bases for -- guess who! -- Mike Aviles. He pushed another single to center field to bring home the winning run.

July 2: The Wright Stuff
Matt Wright came in to relieve a rehabbing John Bale after a few innings against the Oklahoma RedHawks. During the 6th and 7th innings, some vocal regular fans started calling for Wright to come out of the game. Matty's response? He struck out the side in the 8th...in 15 pitches.

August 3-4: The innings-eaters
Omaha picked up two wins in a 4-game series against the Las Vegas 51s before Billy Buckner took the mound for Game 3. The Vegas number 9 hitter had three hits, but none of the other 51s could seem to figure Buckner out. In 8.1 innings, Billy shut them out before coming out in favor of Jason Shiell. Shiell didn't give up any runs either, and I went home excited that I had almost seen one of our guys throw a complete game shutout. The next night, Ben Hendrickson gave me even more to be excited about, as he made it all the way for a CG shutout. In Buckner's almost-all-the-way game, he gave up six hits and walked just one. Hendrickson didn't walk anyone in his game, and only gave up 4 hits. It was a beautiful two days of baseball.

All season: Neal Musser
Neal Musser is a highlight. He's The Guy; the one we could always count on to get anyone and everyone OUT. In 55.1 innings, Musser gave up three earned runs.

Yes. That was three earned runs all season.

There were probably more highlights from this O-Royals season. Aviles and Craig Brazell each had their crazy hot streaks where they each hit multiple homers per game. We had all those extra-inning games, most of which were wins. Royals batters up and down the lineup came up with big hits all the time. Shane Costa had a 19-game hitting streak, and a stretch where he reached base in 30+ games at home. Gathright had all his steals. Mike Jerschele fought umpires and got ejected a bunch. There was that closing weekend with all the crazy extra innings and home run heroics. All told, the O-Royals gave us a hell of a season, and I'm sad it's over.

This might be a good time to point out that the 2008 O-Royals schedule is now available; Opening Day is April 3.

Also...in KC Royals news
It's Banny Time!
People have been talking pretty seriously about my favorite, Brian Bannister, as AL Rookie of the Year.
In this Royals Notes, Connor Nicholl shares some great numbers about Bannister as compared with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Brian Bannister continues to make a strong case for American League Rookie of the Year honors. After he tossed eight innings of one-run ball Sunday afternoon, Bannister ranks first in rookie ERA (3.16) and trails Daisuke Matsuzaka by one in wins (12).

By one measure, at least, Bannister is currently the best rookie in the American League. According to Baseball Prospectus' Value of Replacement Player (VORP statistic), Bannister stands at 41.9, slightly ahead of Matsuzaka's 41.2.

The numbers alone are pretty telling, especially considering that Banny has that many wins without having worked a full MLB season like Dice-K has. Bannister also doesn't have the luxury of the Boston lineup batting behind him. Furthermore, Dice-K is boring. For all the hype he received in the offseason, watching Dice-K pitch is sure a letdown. He averages about 14 years between pitches, whereas MANnister (as my brothers and I like to call him) works quickly and is easily the most exciting pitcher I've ever watched. Let's keep an eyeball out for this most worthy candidate for the RoY honor. (Not to be confused with the "ROY" in this commercial!)

Every night before I go to bed, I update two stats on the whiteboard in my dorm room: the number of teams who have worse records than KC, and the number of games KC is ahead of the White Sox. Last night's numbers are 9 and 4. Yay?


Riley Neff said...

That last bit really made me smile. It may very well be my favorite quirk I've heard of.

Minda said...

Hehe, thanks Neff. I like these numbers too. HOWEVER, tonight's White Sox number is only 3, so it's awkward to have to update.

Such is life as a Royals fan!

Chuck Artis said...

I linked to your log from Posnanski's and enjoy your info on the O-Royals. I'm a huge fan in KC here. The only downside is that you are a Husker. October 6th it is going to be on! M-I-Z...Z-O-U!!!!!!!!

Minda said...

Well Chuck, you're always welcome here, even if you are a Mizzou fan. I can forgive these things!

I'll try and keep up with the O-Royals in the offseason, but I hope you come back to this blog for the '08 season! Go Royals!