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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

These five are boys of bummer

Operatic. That's the scope of the Royals' demise this season - it's achieved the breadth of a grand, tragic opera.

It's like the movie "Requiem for a Dream." As things begin to unravel, each scene uglier than the previous one, you reach a state of visceral overload. A wave of nausea rises in your belly. You want to look away but can't.

In a season of disappointments, here are five key players in the Royals' spiral:

Zack Greinke
Young pitchers will break your heart. We've heard it over and over. Maybe we're still spoiled around here because of the remarkable success of the Royals' young pitchers 20 years ago, but we thought it would be different with Greinke. It hasn't been.

Entering the season, the only real concern regarding Greinke was his home-run rate. His strikeout rate was average and, at his age, should have grown. His walk rate was outstanding, and there is no reason that should change.

Instead, Greinke's strikeout rate has fallen from 6.21 per nine innings to 5.61. His walks have risen from 1.61 to 2.77. As for the home runs? They've gone from 1.61 to 1.18. Yippee - improvement.

Greinke's ERA is 6.09. His career record is 11-25. Very disappointing.

Mark Teahen
For all of you lamenting Angel Berroa's numbers, here's a scary thought: They're better than Teahen's. Compare the percentages. Teahen has a batting line of .243/.304/.363 (that's batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Berroa's is .267/.307/.375.

We knew it might be a while before Teahen found his power stroke. His rate of one home run per 100 at-bats indicates that he is still looking.

What's really troubling about Teahen's season has been the loss of the plate discipline that marked his too-brief minor-league career.

Before reaching the majors, Teahen walked in 12.1 percent of his at-bats. This season, he has walked 25 times in 300 at-bats (8.3 percent).

John Buck
We didn't expect Mike Piazza at the plate, but we also didn't expect another Berroa.

Buck's offensive game consists of swinging hard and often. He has 18 walks and 70 strikeouts. He has power but doesn't connect often enough to make a difference - seven home runs in 284 at-bats.

Of course, Buck has a reputation as a good defensive catcher, and for good reason: He is in the upper third in throwing out opposing base stealers. He has only three passed balls this season.

Still, on a team with so many holes in the lineup, Buck is going to have to make more of a contribution with the bat.

Ruben Gotay
We knew Gotay would struggle with the glove. He did. His zone rating was the third worst among qualifying second basemen - he simply didn't get to enough balls.

At the same time, Gotay displayed a tantalizing combination of power and patience in the minor leagues. Then he obliterated opposing pitchers during spring training. It seemed as if Gotay would be a plus with the bat.

What happened? A batting line of .227/.288/.344. He walked 22 times, struck out 51 and hit five home runs.

The last we saw of Gotay, he was headed for Wichita, where he is four for 25.

Angel Berroa
Berroa pops up in this column a lot, and never for a positive reason.

A couple of weeks ago, it was suggested that Berroa has been one of the worst players in baseball this season. He's moved up some since then with a .410/.429/.538 batting line this month.

All Berroa's hot streak accomplishes is to make his 2005 numbers almost identical to his 2004 totals. They weren't good either.

Given Berroa's age, his regression with the glove and lack of development with the bat, he has been the biggest disappointment because, in his case, it might be time to raise the white flag.

Fortunately, time is still on the side of Greinke, Teahen, Buck and Gotay. They are still at ages when you can hope for and even expect development.

Whether they've developed this season is a matter for conjecture. As the curtain drops on the ugliness of the 2005 season, the only thing we know is that the 2006 season will be a pivotal season for each of these players - and for the Royals' organization in general.

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