At what point do we quit saying “it’s early” and start to become concerned about the slumbering World Champion Kansas City Royals?
After a solid 12-6 start that was actually smoke and mirrors because of great pitching and defense, the Royals have been mired in a 3-9 malaise that has caused them to drop under the .500 mark for the first time since the middle of the 2014 season.
Not only have the Royals been losing games, they’ve looked bad doing it.
The anemic offense has been a season-long problem. Other than Eric Hosmer, the bats have been in the ice bucket. After Hosmer’s .336 average, Omar Infante and the injured Mike Moustakas (out at least 2-3 weeks) are next with .258.
Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon have shown signs of snapping out of it. On the other hand, Salvador Perez looks like he’s going fishing every time up, swinging at pitches a foot outside of the zone. Jarrod Dyson has proven he’s best coming off the bench as he’s flunked his big opportunity to start on a regular basis. He has driven in four runs in 17 games playing a position that is supposed to provide some punch.
It’s perplexing that Ned Yost continues to bat Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot. He is almost guaranteed to swing at the first pitch of the game and is getting himself out by reaching at balls off the plate, resulting in weak grounders. Because of that, No. 2 hitter Cain is forced to take good pitches because the Royals don’t want the opposing pitcher to have a 6- or 7-pitch inning. Escobar has walked just six times in 133 at-bats, which is unsightly.
Then you have slugger Kendrys Morales hitting about 40 points under his weight. In his defense, teams have been shifting beautifully as he’s had at least 15 hits taken away because of perfect defense. He has hit some real rockets into outs.
When the Royals were going good early they were getting a lot of quality starts, but now Ian Kennedy is the only sure thing. Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura can’t find the strike zone and their pitch counts are sky-high through five innings. Chris Young, who took part in home run derby on Monday, is being lit up like a firecracker and may be given only a start or two more to straighten out. Kris Medlen has been an unmitigated failure. They have 6.68 and 6.85 ERAs, respectively.
Dylan Gee is almost assured of being given a shot at starting as his work in long relief has been exemplary. Down on the farm about the only pitching prospect at this time is Miguel Almonte, but the big hope is that former No. 1 pick Kyle Zimmer can at some point get healthy. He’s been in the system long enough that he should be with the big club by now, but he’s been plagued throughout his career by numerous hurts.
Of course there’s still perennial enigma Danny Duffy, but he would need a couple of starts to lengthen out his arm as he’s been pitching no more than an inning or two. Another starter with monster pitch counts is hardly the cure though.
The team’s defense also hasn’t been up to its usual spectacular standards. It hasn’t made that many errors, but most of the miscues have been on routine plays. Omar Infante can’t make a backhand stab anymore and Escobar has mixed in the sensational with bobbles of routine plays.
As I watched the game Monday with the Yankees, what bothered me most is that the team doesn’t appear to be focused. There’s guys in the dugout who were seen laughing even though the Yankees had just hit five rockets off Young in barely three innings of work. It’s almost as if this rough patch is no big deal and they can just flip the switch and turn it on at anytime.
It’s not that easy, though. This team isn’t that good this year. It has to rely on spunk and spirit and out-working the other guy. Right now it’s not doing that.