Evaluating the Royals at halfway point

By Steve Sell
July 01, 2014

Major league baseball teams reached the halfway point of the season this past weekend as nearly all hit the 81-game mark. What do we take from this? Well, there’s a lot of parity in baseball as most of the teams still have a semblance of a chance, with only a half-dozen probably getting ready to sell off their most desired assets. There’s no super team. Oakland is 20 games over .500, yet you won’t find a lot of baseball insiders tabbing them as the prohibitive World Series favorite. Milwaukee currently is the class of the National League and while it may win its division, its chances of making the World Series in most eyes are less than 50-50. Closest to home, Kansas City reached the midway point at 42-39, then tacked on another win Monday over division rival Minnesota. You have to remember there’s a different mindset when it comes to the Royals and their fans. A 42-39 record is considered quite exemplary because their standards are set so low. When you look at it, though, the Royals have underachieved. They have wasted some tremendous starting pitching, well-crafted work out of the bullpen and flashy defense that started slowly but now may be the best in the American League — especially the peerless outfield. As has been the case for the Royals in the last 20 years, their shortcoming is a lack of offense. It’s simply head-scratching how this team can’t ever develop an offensive superstar. When it did — Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon come to mind — they couldn’t eventually afford them and tried to get quality in return, which more often than not failed. The Royals have stayed afloat with only a few offensive players performing to their normal standards. Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar have been steady, Omar Infante has produced runs even though his average isn’t very high and Lorenzo Cain’s hitting has caught up with his gifted defense. Salvador Perez could be scratching the surface of a potential Hall of Fame career, provided manager Ned Yost doesn’t overwork him into the ground. When it comes to finger pointing, the Royals can confidently direct their disappointment at three players — Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas. The maddening Hosmer is like an unbroken colt. He’s all over the place at the plate, totally undisciplined and swinging for the downs. There’s so much expected of him and he’s responded with so little. The physical talent is there, but I have to question what’s going on upstairs. He gets himself out more than the pitchers do. He just seems to be crumbling from expectations. Butler needs to play in Japan where fences are about 300 feet as he’s on pace for a desultory 4-homer season. Sure, his average looks nice on paper, but when you look beyond that he’s still hitting into too many, rally-killing, ego-sapping double plays and gets no lift on the ball. I’ve never seen a player lose his power so quickly except for Minnesota’s Joe Maurer. The Royals can’t afford to carry a singles-hitting DH. Moustakas has spent the year hitting under his weight and a .200 season may only be a pipe dream. He has so many holes in his swing that pitchers lick their chops to face him. It’s hard to believe such a can’t-miss prospect has missed so badly. He’s only around because the Royals picked him so high and they don’t want to admit they made a colossal mistake. He could very well be the worst starting position player in baseball. Fortunately for the Royals, they play in a division where not a lot is needed. They won’t catch Detroit, simply because they have too many peaks and valleys and the offense takes too many nights off. But if they can beat up on the less-superior Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota in the division, the wild-card is a real possibility. It’s there for the taking. The talented AL West teams will soon start beating up on each other when division play picks up. Boston and Tampa Bay are having miserable years in the AL East. Never has the draw been set up better. Kansas City hasn’t been to the postseason since 1985 and hasn’t come that close more than a couple of times. With the core of players having been in place for three or four years now, it’s time to put up or shut up.