A Fool’s Errand, Chapter 1: Good Times, Bad Times

Royals1

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

Just hours after the Kansas City Royals recorded the final out and won the 2015 World Series, a slightly more-pixelated, much less-talented Royals squad took the field for the first time. As anyone who read my previous article knows, I am attempting to take the worst-ranked team in MVP Baseball 2005 through a full season on MVP difficulty on my slightly laggy TV and try against all odds to eke out 82 wins or more with a roster that could only muster 56 in the real world. It will be a strenuous commitment requiring patience and perseverance, but I’m hoping that this chronicle of my trials and tribulations will be an adequate way to help me push through and reach the finish line.

THE SQUAD

In order to capture as much realism as the Gamecube will allow, I will try to do as little roster tinkering as possible. After spending some time adjusting my lineups, doing some minor AAA call-ups and send-downs, and organizing the pitching rotation, here are your 2005 Kansas City Royals:

Batters:
Pitchers:

With the exception of Dennis Tankersley and Abraham Nunez, who spent the entirety of their 2005 seasons in the Royals’ farm system, the remainder of this roster all spent their real-life year with the Royals, albeit in some different roles.

Tankersley has a solid stamina rating and decent stuff, making him an ideal long relief man and possible spot starter if any of my starters appear on pace to lose 15+ games (like Greinke and Lima actually did that year). The person sent down to make room for Tankersley was Mike MacDougal, who actually was the Royals closer in 2005. However, Affeldt has a much livelier fastball (in the game at least) and has the added benefit of being a southpaw. I like the idea of MacDougal gaining late-inning experience with the AAA Royals and being a late-season call-up if I have need for a right-handed bullpen arm.

As for Nunez, he was a part of the default roster from the onset, despite never clawing out of AAA in reality. One notable person missing from the actual Royals roster and freeing up a space in MVP is third-baseman Mark Teahen, who was a rookie in 2005 and thus not present in the game. As such, I decided to let Graffanino play third and kept Nunez on the MLB bench as a switch-hitting pinch hitter possibility.

MVP wasn’t kidding when they ranked the Royals as the worst team in the game. Zack Greinke is a 21-year-old ace here, and he’s a few years away from becoming one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. He struggled mightily in 2005, going 5-17 with an abysmal 5.80 ERA over 183 innings. On the game, Greinke has average stuff except for an inexplicable 56 mph curveball eephus pitch which takes over a second to reach the plate. The rest of the Royals rotation is frankly hideous, and real-life Lima logged a 6.99 ERA in 2005 as a qualified starter (the fourth-highest single-season ERA of all time).

On the offensive side of things, the forecast isn’t much brighter. Mike Sweeney was the only real-life Royal to reach .300, and he also led the team with just 21 home runs. My power-first approach to MVP 05 may not work with a roster so resplendent in strength, but I will accept it as my initial strategy while I adjust to the new timing of the game. 

THE BEGINNING

Game 1 @ Tigers: DET 4, KCR 0 (0-1, L1)

The uncertainty that accompanies the first moments of a long-term endeavor is a feeling of wonder, anxiety, excitement and self-doubt all wrapped up into one, and I couldn’t help but worry about the fate of this Royals team after a swift 4-0 Opening Day loss in which I could only muster three hits against the Tigers’ Mike Maroth (a former 20-game loser). Greinke pitched well but tired quickly in the seventh inning, and I pulled him after he gave up a two-run homer to light-hitting Fernando Vina. The bullpen failed to impress either, giving up another Vina homer and making a comeback virtually impossible.

Game 2 @ Tigers: KCR 4, DET 2 (1-1, W1)

My first win of the season was exciting in many ways, predominantly because of the seven shutout innings I got out of Brian Anderson. I think I figured out the pitching side of things with the new timing, and even got a few strikeouts to go along with a lot of first-pitch outs. On the hitting side of things, I was hitting the ball well to the opposite side of the field, and the first three runs were completely manufactured without a home run. A Ruben Gotay homer in the top of the ninth provided the insurance I would need to survive another shaky outing from my bullpen. Perhaps a more contact-based strategy inherently formed from my

EDIT: Never mind. Since game 2, every run I have scored has come via a home run.

Every.

Single.

Run.

Game 3 @ Tigers: DET 7, KCR 3 (1-2, L1)
Game 4 @ Angels: LAA 10, KCR 3 (1-3, L2)

Yikes. My first doubts about this season creeped in as I endured two consecutive shellackings. Jimmy Gobble and Jose Lima combined to give up 15 runs in a combined 6+ innings over their two starts, and both sport an ERA above 13.50 (1.5 earned runs per inning). I was out of these games from the beginning (the Angels scored 4 runs before recording an out), but I did make some strides with the bats. Ruben Gotay hit two more home runs (putting him at 60% of his real-life total through 5 games), Matt Stairs showed his power, and Tony Graffanino established himself as my most reliable contact swinger. Other than these three however, the rest of the team is struggling, with no one else batting above .250. Catcher John Buck is 0-14 with 6 strikeouts.

Game 5 @ Angels: KCR 6, LAA 2 (2-3, W1)
Game 6 @ Angels: KCR 3, LAA 0 (3-3, W2)
Game 7 vs. Mariners: KCR 3, SEA 1 (4-3, W3)

Now that’s more like it. My offense came alive in my first winning streak of the year, hitting several home runs. Mike Wood and Zack Greinke also held the potent Vlad Guerrero-led Angels offense in check, with Greinke throwing a complete game in his second start of the season. That eephus is quite fun to utilize, and it quickly is taking over as his go-to strikeout pitch.

Game 8 vs. Mariners: SEA 5, KCR 1 (4-4, L1)
Game 9 vs. Mariners: KCR 2, SEA 0 (5-4, W1)

Redemption, thy name is Jose Lima. After getting absolutely bombarded by the Angels’ bats, Lima turned out the best start of this young season. He retired the first 15 Mariners he faced, and ultimately threw eight innings of three-hit ball. His ERA is still over 6.00, but that has to be one of the greatest first start of the year to second start of the year turnarounds in history.

I still haven’t made any progress on weaning myself off home runs, and JOHN BUCK STILL DOESN’T HAVE A HIT. I’m starting to get worried now, because I put in backup catcher Paul Phillips a couple games ago and he went 0-4 as well. If I make it to game 15 and Buck still doesn’t have a hit, I’m just going to call up the AAA catcher and see what he can do.

In the season’s saddest moment thus far, first-baseman and team captain Mike Sweeney went down with a sprained knee after valiantly diving after a foul ball. He only needs to go on the 15-day Disabled List, but I’ll need to find a replacement for him. I doubt I’ll be able to find a Jeromy Burnitz-esque messianic slugger in the nearly-depleted free agent market, but I settled on 33-year-old Tony Clark. He has a strong left-handed bat against right-handed pitchers, making him an excellent platoon candidate with Ken Harvey once Sweeney returns from his injury. Plus, he hit 30 home runs for the Diamondbacks in his actual 2005 season, so maybe he can be a long-term asset as well.

Game 10 vs. Tigers: KCR 5, DET 3 (6-4, W2)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Baseball is a beautiful game, and anything can change from one day to the next. John Buck has been the butt of this entire article, but he looked like Ted Williams in Game 10. Erasing his 0-24 start, Buck became the first Royal this year to bat 1.000 for a game by going 3-3 with a towering solo homer, a double, a single, and a walk. His average for the season still sits at an abysmal .111, but virtual Buck heard something when I called him out after game 9, and his pixelated biceps delivered the performance of the short year.

In another touch of poetic wonder, Tony Clark had three hits in his Royals debut, including the go-ahead two-run homer and a down-the-line double. Following his home run, the replay camera cut to Mike Sweeney on the bench, sitting on the bench but raucously cheering the success of his replacement. It’s selfless behavior like that which earned Sweeney the captaincy, and the Royals are starting to mesh together as a team. I won’t be able to submit this to ESPN as an Instant Classic, but this game had so many great elements that it will go down as the first of (hopefully) many memorable games this season.

It’s too early to forecast, but I’m beginning to feel good vibes from this Royals team. I’m four games ahead of my start with the Blue Jays team, despite even worse pitching and less consistent hitting. They seem to have the knack for delivering just enough clutch offense in the games when the pitchers decide to show up. Blowouts are blowouts, and I’m at peace with that. But the Royals are 5-0 thus far in games decided by three runs or fewer, and that speaks to the grit and determination these boys have. They may be at the bottom of the talent heap, but they appear to be near the top of the league in the as-of-yet unmeasurable heart heap.

STATS THROUGH 10 GAMES

Record: 6-4 (T-1st Place in AL Central, 4-way tie with MIN, CHW, and DET)

Batting Average Leaders: Tony Graffanino (.324), Ruben Gotay (.303)
Home Runs Leaders: Matt Stairs and Ruben Gotay (4 each)
RBI Leaders: Ruben Gotay (6), Matt Stairs (5)

Those ghastly RBI:Home Run ratios don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Team Runs Scored: 30 (29th in Majors)
Team Runs Allowed: 34 (8th in Majors)

Here’s hoping the offense continues to pick up, and that my over-achieving pitchers don’t regress to their actual skill levels. No matter what happens, I can tell it’s going to be a fun ride with the Royals. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you guys next time for the next leg of the journey!

Until then,

Ryan

 

 

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