The Royals Return to Winning, but it’s in Spite of Weak OffenseFollow @RoyalsBlue_com
The Royals swept the Twins and secured a two game lead in the AL Central.
I’ve been preaching that the Twins (and Astros) aren’t for real and that they’ll fall off. Losing for the seventh time in 10 games, maybe this is the beginning of the end for the Minnesota (33-26)? They started the season 1-6, but came out of nowhere with a 20-7 May as part of a torrid 24-11 stretch, while Kansas City endured a 2-9 stretch. Now, the Royals have won four in a row and appear to be coming out of their funk. Prior to, the Royals were 28-14 after a five-game win streak from May 17-23. It was the franchise-best 42 game start, a 108-win pace.
Then something happened. The offense lost its pulse. The pitching improved, but couldn’t make up for barely averaging two runs a game.
Now, after they’re back in first place. But, the offense is still sputtering.
In baseball, much more than every other sport because of how many games are played – 162 in 180 days – fans have to keep a level head. Through a course of a season, rarely are you as good as your highs or as bad as your lows. Sure, it might seem cliché or like a blanket statement to say, but, that is the ebs and flows of baseball. You’re never as good as your best and never as bad as your worst.
The Royals (34-23) scored early in all four games of this win streak and led throughout, minus the seventh inning on Sunday when Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed one hit in just 6.1 innings, allowed back to back hits, followed by two straight and a RBI groundout against Herrera and the Rangers briefly tied the game with a 3-run inning (followed by Salvador Perez’s go-ahead HR one inning later in the bottom of the eighth). During the skid, the Royals were falling into early holes and the offense couldn’t recover. Earlier in the season, the offense would recover from a non-quality start from a starting pitcher.
Tonight, they scored four right away in the first. The big blow was a 3-run visit to Dong Town from Alex Gordon, who is starting to shake off a 1-19 homestand. Edinson Volquez (5-4), winning for the first time in five tries on the road this season, on a night when Wade Davis and Greg Holland were both unavailable, went seven innings allowing just one run despite only one clean inning on a night he battled his command. The Royals got three more unearned runs after the Twins failed to turn double plays. In the fifth, on a tailor-made double-play ball, Twins rookie shortstop Jorge Polanco booted a ball, bouncing off him all the way into right field, then Torii Hunter threw it away and Alcides Escobar scored all the way from first. In the seventh, Joe Mauer’s throwing error to second base trying to throw out Salvador Perez to start a 3-6-3 double play led to two Royals as Perez and Omar Infante later came around and scored.
Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe drove in both runs – a single in the third and a solo HR just missed by Gordon in the eighth.
Volquez pitched seven innings for just the second time in nine starts, Jason Frasor pitched a scoreless ninth, lowering his ERA to 0.49 and the Royals are now on a 97-win pace, which will be plenty good enough to win the division.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals are still a but of an unknown. Which offensive team are they, the one that was one of the best in the game for a month, month and a half with one of the worst starting rotations in baseball? Or are they more like they’ve been since, an offense resembling 2014 that scores just enough if it has good pitching – which they’re starting to get now?
Through April, it was a complete role reversal from 2014. The offense was driving the bus; a Top 5 offense in all of baseball in almost every area (minus homeruns and stolen bases). Meanwhile, the pitching was dead last in MLB and quality starts. Because of the BBOAT (Best Bullpen in Baseball), which still boasts the top bullpen ERA in MLB (1.72) despite pitching the eighth most bullpen innings (188), total team pitching numbers were still respectable and translated to a top half pitching staff. Now, the Royals have second-best ERA in the American League (3.36). But, the problems that plagued the Royals at the plate last year – plate discipline, not taking pitches and lack of power – are back. They were just masked by the hot start. The hackers are dead last in walks (120), but hey, at least they have the fewest strikeouts (336) and it’s not even close (379 is next closest). But, that’s OK, because that’s who we are. Sure, the bats will heat up from time to time and have some hot stretches, but don’t be fooled by April and think we’re all of a sudden a killer offense. We’re not. That was more of the carry over from October. It was bound to regress to the mean. We’re experiencing that right now. This is closer to what the Royals offense really is.
On the same level, the pitching was bound to get better. No way it would continue being one of the worst starting staff’s in all of baseball. So like the Royals weren’t as good as their hot start and not nearly as bad as the 2-9 stretch, the same goes for the offense and the pitching – the bats aren’t as good as they were to start and the starting pitching was better than it was. Again with the cliché’, but baseball has a way to even itself off and fix itself. This is no different.
The Royals scored just 23 runs in the 11 game stretch, with eight coming in one game. That’s good for 1.5 runs per game in the other 10 games. Meanwhile, the Royals allowed 4.67 runs per game over this rough stretch. But, take away the 14 in the blowout at Yankee Stadium and that number dropped to 3.8 runs per game in the other 10 games. Certainly not bad at all for the American League. What does this tell us? The Royals starting pitching, which has been a liability for most of the season, is not the problem right now. The offense is.
Remind you of 2014?
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Since May 24, when the Royals lost 6-1 to the Cardinals, in addition to the 2.6 runs per game, which included the 4.0 over the four-game winning streak, the Royals are hitting .212/.273/.315 with 29 extra base hits (18 2B, 11 HR), 109 strikeouts to just 36 walks (two intentional). They’re last or in the bottom five in each category. But, at least it’s better than the .197 batting average over the 11 games before the four-game win streak. The strikeouts are WAY ahead of the season pace, and there’s the real issue. The Royals are a contact hitting team. When they’re striking out a lot, its not good.
The dip in the offensive numbers really started May 1, where the Royals had an OPS of .812, third-best in the major leagues and second-best in the American League behind the Baltimore Orioles (.827). Since, the Royals have a .669 OPS, 26th in the major leagues. Kansas City had 71 extra-base hits in 22 games before May 1, tied for sixth-most in the major leagues. From May 1 on, the Royals have had 94 extra-base hits in 35 games, tied for 22nd in the majors. The Royals’ 26 home runs since May 1 rank last in the American League and second-to-last in the major leagues to the Atlanta Braves.
Downward offensive spiral?
It has been for mostly every Royals player, who are all performing well under their season lines since May 1 and especially since May 24, but, its been the worst of the worst for Omar Infante, hitting .100 (5-50)/.100/.100 (!!!) with 10 strikeouts and Alex Rios, who came off the DL not the same hitter he was in the seven games he played prior (.333, 1 HR, 8 RBI), hitting just .129/.182/.161 since his return. The duo has one combined extra base hit (Rios double).
Now that the offense left the driver’s seat of the bus, the pitching slid into it. Owner of four straight quality starts, allowing just three runs in the last 25 2/3 innings, the rotation’s ERA is 4.97 even over the last 15 games dating back to May 24, BUT, take away Jeremy Guthrie’s 11 runs while getting just three outs outing, the rotation is posting a 3.70 ERA in that span – much better than the 4.37 rotation ERA for the season. Jason Vargas has won four of five. Chris Young took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Guthrie took a one-hitter into the sixth. Volquez has a 3.06 ERA. Yordano Ventura, before his last start where he lasted just three innings, went seven innings in four straight starts. Guthrie has been solid in five of his last six starts. Things are looking up.
So, to answer the who are the Royals question, this recent stretch is more like who they really are. They’re going to continue to hack away at the plate and see the fewest pitches in baseball. The starting pitching will even out. The Royals season totals have really slid back into the middle of the pack. They’re still third in the AL in doubles and triples, but their batting average has slipped from MLB-best to No. 4 (.270). The OBP (.320) continues to dip, down to No. 10 in MLB and slugging is down to No. 6 (.408) from No. 2. This will continue until they’re a middle of the pack, to below average offensive, collectively, but will continue to hit for a high average. The OBP and SLUG will continue to drop. But, as long as they’re not dead last in OPS and HR and near bottom in OBP like last year, it’ll be an improvement over a year ago. Remember when we wrote this: http://kcsportsnation.com/2015/02/hey-royals-lets-homers-walks-2015/? It’ll be better than that. It has to be, but they’re already down to 27th in HR (42) and although ahead of last year’s pace (95), they’re going to remain near the bottom all season. The quality starts for the rotation will slowly creep to the middle of the pack, but will continue to be carried by the bullpen.
Who are the Kansas City Royals? Who cares as long as they continue to win.
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