Bubba Starling debuts with the Royals at Kauffman Stadium
As Bubba Starling walked through the Royals clubhouse with his jersey hanging in a locker for the first time, teammates individually offered congratulatory messages. Salvador Perez. Hunter Dozier. Nicky Lopez.
The long-awaited major-league arrival of a 26-year-old former first-round draft pick prompted a bit of a different energy in the room. But it wasn’t the only source of it.
A series opener Friday at Kauffman Stadium offers a new start for Starling — and a much-needed fresh start for the group around him.
The Royals began the second half of their season 27 games behind first-place Minnesota, out of the playoff race at the All-Star break for the second straight season.
“We gotta start winning — gotta win some games,” said Whit Merrifield, the team’s lone All-Star this week in Cleveland. “It’s no secret where we are as a team as far as standings go. Try to do the second half the way we did last year, and that’s create some energy, create some excitement and some momentum moving into next year.
“This going about games like we are is getting kind of old, losing games. We gotta turn that around. I’ve been saying it for awhile. So it’s time to stop talking and start doing it.”
They indeed turned it around last season. Relatively speaking, at least.
The Royals were 27-68 (.284) before the break and 31-36 (.463) after the break in 2018. They hit for a better average, reached base at a better clip and produced extra-base hits with better regularity. Scored nearly a full run more per game. Allowed one fewer run per game.
As for whether they can replicate it ...
“We played some good baseball the second half of last year,” third baseman Dozier said. “I keep telling everyone this — I feel like we’re playing good baseball. We’re in every game. We’re not getting blown away. We’re losing by one or two runs, not getting a hit here or there or maybe losing a lead late in a game. Eventually, you think things will start turning around. We’re trying to do everything right.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before we see more consistency on the field. We had a good second half last year, and I think we’ll pick it up again this year.”
Energy. To a player, the Royals will say that served as the key in the 2018 rejuvenation, sparked by late-season call-ups of younger prospects. Dozier played more. Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn were summoned from Class AAA Omaha.
“I think the young guys, they kinda came into their own last year,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
They added another one Friday, placing Starling in the starting lineup in centerfield in favor of Billy Hamilton. Starling made his major-league debut.
It will take more for the wins to follow, of course. Royals general manager Dayton Moore pointed toward two common themes among the best teams in 2019. They defend well. They match up well late.
The Royals do the former. The latter? It’s been a grind.
So as he evaluates this 2019 group, the ability to improve in the standings will start there. But they will look beyond the wins and losses, digging into the development of individuals, analyzing the ability of players to push through struggles at the big-league level.
“What we need to see is a consistent approach,” Moore said. “Dozier’s giving us a consistent approach. Whit Merrifield. Alex Gordon. Nicky Lopez. Adalberto Mondesi. I can go on and on. Jorge Soler. They’re all giving us a consistent approach. It hasn’t translated to winning games. Eventually, that has to take place. Eventually, we have to figure out how to win games and how to match up late.”