What happened to the Royals this season?
Besides Joakim Soria, of course. Soria, who blew another save opportunity during Tuesday night’s loss to Oakland — the loss that may have finally broken Kansas City’s playoff chances — has been the major whipping boy for a frustrated fan base. And trust me, every frustrated fan base has one.
Soria hasn’t been good, no question. But there are other factors at work here, including key injuries to Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon that have curtailed or eliminated their expected production.
Starting pitching should get some of the blame, too.
Royals starters are 48-51 this season compared to 65-53 in 2015. The starters, outside of Danny Duffy and occasionally Ian Kennedy, haven’t been reliable and aren’t going as deeply into games as they did last season. That has taxed KC’s mighty bullpen, which lost closer Wade Davis for a significant period of time due to an injury.
The Royals were able to get to two consecutive World Series’ thanks to a supreme bullpen, great baserunning, timely hitting and uncanny resolve.
Their performance has slipped this season, in almost every area.
The pitching staff’s ERA has risen from 3.51 to 3.73 to 4.11 the past three seasons. So, too, it should be pointed out, has the overall ERA for American League pitching staffs as offenses have become more profound.
Still, the Royals’ staff has only seven complete games over three seasons. And although complete games have mostly disappeared from baseball’s landscape over the past couple of decades, that’s still a resoundingly low number.
Kansas City’s 53 saves in 2014 were tied for first in the AL and the Royals’ 56 saves last season ranked second. This year, KC’s bullpen has combined for 37 saves, 11th in the American League.
And those more-profound offenses? That’s not the case in Kansas City.
Here are the Royals’ American League rankings in key offensive categories for 2014, 2015 and 2016 among the 15 AL teams:
2014 — Average (2), Home runs (15), Runs (9), Doubles (4), Triples (5), Stolen bases (1), Walks (15), Strikeouts (15), On-base percentage (9), Slugging percentage (11), OPS (10), Total bases (10).
2015 — Average (3), Home runs (14), Runs (6), Doubles (3), Triples (4), Stolen bases (2), Walks (15), Strikeouts (15), On-base percentage (7), Slugging percentage (8), OPS (7), Total bases (7).
2016 — Average (T5), Home runs (15), Runs (14), Doubles (10), Triples (T5), Stolen bases (2), Walks (15), Strikeouts (11), On-base percentage (12), Slugging percentage (14), OPS (14), Total bases (13).
The decline in just one season in almost every number — pitching and hitting — has been precipitous. And, I would say, cause for concern moving forward,
The Royals have played remarkably well at times this season, but have also been terrible in long stretches.
They were 12-6 to start the season, 13-3 during a stretch from May 15 through June 1, 13-7 from June 11 through July 2 and 15-3 from Aug. 14-29. That’s 53-19 overall.
But Kansas City is just 21-51 apart from those hot spurts, trails Cleveland by nine games in the American League Central and is five games out in the wild-card chase, looking up at six teams.
Clearly, the offseason will be important for the Royals. It will help to have Moustakas back and healthy, although Cheslor Cuthbert has filled in well at third base. Kansas City will benefit greatly from a healthy Cain, of course.
But there’s not a hitter in the Royals’ lineup with an OPS higher than Eric Hosmer’s .784. And Hosmer has struggled for more than three months.
After going 3-for-5 against Tampa Bay on May 31, Hosmer raised his average to .330, his slugging percentage to .553 and his OPS to .929. In 92 games since, Hosmer is batting .241 with a .387 slugging percentage and a .703 OPS.
Where’s the offense? Where’s the pitching? Where are the Royals?
It’s been that kind of season. To its credit, Kansas City has hung around in the wild-card race longer than it perhaps should have thanks to the inability of the teams ahead of the Royals to separate themselves.
Maybe the Royals will get hot down the stretch and make things interesting. Given the team’s struggles for much of the season, though, that’s unlikely.
Attention soon will be turned toward 2017, with some major fixes needed.