The Five Hole with Chris Gift

So the Cardinals and Royals just wrapped up their annual six-game "rivalry" to determine the "bragging rights" of Missouri's baseball allegiance. Thank God the Rams and Chiefs have the Governor's Cup coming up on August 30 to break the 3-3 tie between the Cardinals and Royals in this barnburner of a rivalry.

The traffic on westbound 40 after the game Wednesday night headed back to Kansas City was bumper to bumper for miles…oh wait, that was the traffic because of the construction.

There was something different about the games this season. Not just the one sidedness of the games in Kansas City, not just the fact that Albert Pujols' made an out against the Royals' Odalis Perez, and not the quickness of the game Tuesday (2 hours, 10minutes) or the slowness of the game on Wednesday (5 hours, 21 minutes).

The teams are starting to equal out. The blue team can, and did, compete with the red team. In the name of parity, the good thing is that the Royals look like a team on the rise.

Sure, we've heard this "look out, here we come, just you wait, next year and two years from now the team will be ready to win" shtick from another team that wears blue that is a few hundred miles from here, but unlike the Cubs, the Royals (under new GM Dayton Moore) seem to be going about this the correct way.

Sure, the Royals have a fair amount of players on the back end of their careers, but for every Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders and Mike Sweeney (all on the disabled list, ironically), the team has at least two young players ready to ascend to the majors and get the team competitive in MLB's toughest division.

It seems that the inexact science that is the baseball draft seems to have finally panned out for the Royals.

Third baseman, Alex Gordon, who the Royals drafted with the second pick of the 2005 draft, won the 2005 Golden Spikes Award, and the Minor League Player of the Year Award in '06 leads a impressive group of Royals' draft picks that have already reached the Big Leagues, including: Billy Butler, David DeJesus, Shane Costa and Zack Greinke.

The Royals have also stockpiled players via trade, without having an all-out fire sale. Trades jettisoning Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon didn't produce anything, but the most recent "fire sale" type trade they did make (sending Carlos Beltran to Houston) did yield two starters, catcher John Buck (no relation), and corner infielder, turned corner outfielder Mark Tehan.

Future starting designated hitter Ryan Shealy was stolen with Brian Dohmann from Colorado for lefty Jeremy Affeldt and scrub Denny Bautista. Young starter Brian Bannister was acquired for middle of the road, middle reliever Ambiroix Burgos from the Mets at last season's trade deadline. Starting shortstop Tony Pena, Jr. was acquired from Atlanta for somebody named Erik Cordier.

First overall pick of the 2006 Draft, the University of Tennessee's Luke Hochevar, is already at AA Wichita and should vie for a job in the rotation by late next season, if not 2009.

Add another second overall pick, SS Mike Moustakas, this season and the Royals have a stable of young talent (in order of appearance in this column): Gordon, Butler, DeJesus, Costa, Greinke, Shealy, Bannister, Pena, Jr., Hochevar, and Moustakas.

The Royals last three drafts have seen them pick no lower than second. Even in the uncertainty of baseball, that's hard to screw up. With the AL Central being very top-heavy, with Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox all very good, the Royals will have at least one more high pick to add to the ones already assembled.

To get to Kansas City from here requires traveling west, but in the future it may require traveling north in the standings.

Compare that with our beloved Birds on the Bat. Prospects already at the Major League Level: Adam Wainwright, Anthony Reyes (sometimes), Chris Duncan, Yadier Molina (if he's still considered a prospect), and Brendan Ryan.

Prospects ready to come up: Rick Ankiel

Prospects for 2008 or 2009: Colby Rasmus.

The Cardinals payroll is extremely top-heavy, while the Royals have practiced fiscal responsibility (okay, maybe $11 million per year for Gil Meche is a little overboard). The Cardinals have their new stadium, while the Royals' refurbishments to Kauffman Stadium are a few years away.

Moore has the ear of owner David Glass, and it seems that the Royals' front office is all on the same page. Compare that with the rumblings of turmoil between Bill DeWitt, and his new favorite toy, Jeff Luhnow, and Walt Jocketty.

Here's a question: It is October 2009, and ESPN has just televised a football game from Mizzou. That crew's next assignment is a Major League Baseball Playoff game in Missouri. The 18-wheeler heads north on Stadium Blvd., past the mall, and heads for Highway 70, does the rig get in the right lane and head to St. Louis, or hang a left, go west, and end up in KC?

If they head west, don't be surprised.


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