The Royals reached the first benchmark of the season, and the results thus far haven’t been awe-inspiring or even overly encouraging. Depending on your point of view, how the Royals arrived at their current circumstances may be viewed as both frustrating and a reason for optimism.
Forty games into the regular season, the Royals’ 14-26 record through Saturday sits one win ahead of last year’s 104-loss team at the same point (13-27).
From his suite at Kauffman Stadium while his team and the Philadelphia Phillies prepared to play Saturday night, Royals general manager Dayton Moore discussed his observations on the first quarter of the season. He remains cautiously optimistic and believes the team has played better than its record indicates.
“I don’t think a lot of people necessarily believe in us,” Moore said. “I know one thing. We believe in this group of players, and I know they believe in themselves. The adversity that we went through is exactly what we needed to put ourselves in a position to win the rest of the year.”
The Royals have the second-worst record in the American League, ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, and they’ve already experienced a 10-game losing streak. They’ve lost seven one-run games and have won just one series since the start of April.
“We’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole,” Moore said. “If you’re going to struggle, you’re better off struggling early. Then find your consistency and you’ve got time to make it up. You can recover. Every team is going to go through their struggles throughout 162 games. Hopefully ours is over and we can continue to play consistent, winning baseball and get on a run. That’s what it’s going to require at this point in time.”
While the Royals still face an uphill climb to get back to .500, they’ve seemingly calmed the biggest firestorm of the early weeks of the season — the bullpen.
After having posted a 7.44 ERA and .324 opponent batting average to go along with 24 walks and 37 strikeouts in their first 42 1/3 innings of the season, Royals relievers entered Saturday’s game with a collective ERA of 4.88 and opponents are batting .262 against them with 128 strikeouts and 57 walks in 131 innings.
The club’s offense, the biggest question mark entering the season, has proven to be better than adequate. The Royals entered Saturday scoring an average of 4.74 runs per game, slightly better than the league average of 4.61. They led the majors in stolen bases and triples.
The season started with legitimate reasons to doubt the everyday lineup’s home run production. There was the lack of a sustained track record for players such as Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn, durability issues of Jorge Soler and Adalberto Mondesi, the declining production of Alex Gordon and the absence of Salvador Perez (Tommy John surgery) in the middle of their lineup.
So far, they’ve hit 48 home runs and have four players with six or more, and five players slugging .500 or better. Gordon has enjoyed a resurgence at age 35, and Dozier ranked among the top five in the majors in OPS.
“I believe our offense can beat you in a lot of ways,” Moore said. “We can beat you with speed. We can beat you with power. We still strike out a little too much for all of our liking. Unfortunately, it’s an industry-wide issue. There’s a lot of players striking out. But I like our power. I like our speed. Certainly what Hunter Dozier has done in the first 40 games, this last month has been really good.”
Moore was clear that he didn’t foresee any significant potential additions through free agency, trades or minor-league call-ups at this point that would have major impact.
“These are the players we have,” Moore said. “There’s nobody to go get. There’s nobody to trade for. There’s nobody else to call up right now that fits. You don’t want to bring a young player up, unless you feel like they’re going to have a chance to play every day.”
Moore made those comments fully ware of the success infielder Nicky Lopez has had in Triple-A Omaha. After having spent most of spring training in big-league camp, Lopez is off to a stellar offensive start in the minors, where he’s hit .363 with a .463 on-base percentage and a .513 slugging percentage through 30 games.
Starting pitching remains an area where the Royals could still tinker in order to find better results. Moore pointed to a need for “more consistency” from that unit.
Danny Duffy’s return from the injured list provided an experienced left-hander to the group, but the Royals ranked in the bottom third in the majors in runs allowed per game by their starters (4.95) through Friday’s games. Their quality start rate of 36% ranked below the league average.
While the current group of Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Homer Bailey, Jorge Lopez and Duffy resembles what would likely have been the projected starting rotation in spring training, it doesn’t mean that the Royals won’t consider potential changes to the group, such as giving a player like Glenn Sparkman a shot.
“I think Sparky is somebody that is right there competing for a spot in that rotation,” Moore said.