I think it’s official now that the Kansas City Royals are in a slump.
It all seemed too easy when the Royals were racing to a 28-14 record, which was the best in baseball at the time. They were continuing the high of last year’s World Series near-miss and through 42 games they played with supreme confidence — almost to the point of arrogance.
But the Royals have lost seven of their last nine games and it’s easy to pinpoint the culprit — an anemic, singles-hitting offense that went from the best in baseball in April to one of the worst in May.
In these seven recent losses, the Royals scored just one run in five of those games and in the other two they managed just two runs. Just as their robust offense in April was a collective effort with frenzied hitting, their collapse has been from top to bottom as nearly every single hitter is in a slump and the home runs have disappeared like dust in the wind.
I think we knew the Royals weren’t really the offensive juggernaut they displayed the first four weeks of the season, but they’re not as as bad as the last four weeks have shown.
The problem is they don’t have enough quality starting pitching this season to overcome a puny offense. The loss of James Shields has been felt as he always delivered a professional start and nobody has assumed his role of ace.
Yordano Ventura has been knighted as the head of the staff, but immaturity issues have held him back. He has thrown better in recent games, but has yet to get on a roll.
Danny Duffy was supposed to be the No. 2 guy, but he’s been a physical and mental train wreck. I’ve had my doubts about him throughout his Royals tenure as he walks to the beat of a different drummer.
Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are pedestrian veterans who should eat up six innings a start, but at the very best they’re both .500 pitchers.
Edinson Volquez has been the Royals’ best starter. That honor had gone to Chris Young, but the bloom has come off his rose after a 4-0 start. Ned Yost has to make sure he doesn’t overcook Young, of whom about 100 innings were expected this year. Until Duffy gets his head on straight, though, Young will remain in the rotation.
The bullpen is still better-than-good, though has anyone seen Luke Hochevar lately? After his amazing 2013, he missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery and clearly hasn’t regained his old form. He’s now buried except for mop-up duty. The Royals are paying him $5 million for low-stress situations, which is a lot for a team that’s such bottom-line conscious. He’s probably their most expendable player, but I’m not sure how much he’d bring in return.
The Royals are in a dangerous part of the schedule, one reason they need to get things turned around. Following this weekend’s series against Texas, they play only five more home games in June with 16 on the road. And what a brutal stretch it is — opponents include first-place Minnesota, first-place St. Louis (which is playing 75 percent baseball at Busch) and the dreaded West Coast swing with series in Seattle and Oakland, while coming back through to play first-place Houston.
This has all the makings of a deep June swoon that could be tough to recover from.