At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for a potential .500 record and maybe if all worked out perfectly, a possible play contender. They have disappointed as they are minus 13 under .500 with 21 games left. Unless they go on a big winning streak, they will be under .500 again. (They are plus 4 since the All-Star break.)
Problems begin with pitching as young pitchers have exhibited growing pains but progress have been shown. There are times that Brad Singer have shown growth from last year and times that he has taken steps backwards as he struggles to develop a third pitch but his last game, he has pitched well over the last three games with a victory over White Sox. Daniel Lynch has pitched well since coming back from Omaha and a rough start early this year as he is 3-1. Kowar is still showing growing pain but getting better with each game but the gem of this young staff is Carlos Hernandez who is 6-1 this year but over his last seven games 4-0 and a ERA under 2. Kris Bubic has been inconsistent and may be a fifth starter in the future. Brad Keller was due to have a break through year but 8-12 this year. The good news is that he is under 4 ERA in his last seven games but still I expected more.
As one writer for Royals Review noted, “And the Royals still have some very interesting pitchers in the minors in Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan, and Austin Cox to name a few. The fact that it is impossible to make a reasonably sized list of potential pitchers without leaving off several is a testament to the true depth the Royals currently have in their minor league pitching.” The bullpen is developing but again, this year a lot of potential but not yet developed and this point was reinforced by Royal Review writer, “In the bullpen the Royals have Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Joel Payamps, Jake Brentz, Domingo Tapia, Richard Lovelady, and Tyler Zuber currently experiencing mixed levels of success at the big leagues. Of the starters I mentioned earlier some won’t pitch in the big leagues next year but more than five of them almost certainly will and there are plenty of reasons to think any or all of them could have at least as much success in the bullpen as they’ve had in the rotation.”
Hitting has been problematic but some pieces look strong. Every year, we hear about Merrifield needing to traded but since 2016, he has hit .292 and presently hitting .276 which for him is a down year. He is in top five in hits among both leagues and is number one in the American League. Nicky Lopez is hitting over .290 and now doing what he did in the minors, hit to all field and get on base. He is also 19 for 19 in stolen bases, never been caught. While he had a rough start in the majors as a hitting but in both Double A and Triple A, he hit over .300. So what he is doing now, he was doing in the minors. Salvy Perez has been great with his power and still a great catcher.
Andrew Benintendi was hitting well before he fractured his ribs but lately he has raised his average to .263 with 14 homers. He also played great defense and has replaced the great defensive skills of Alex Gordon. The problem with the Royals is number 5 thru 9. Mondesi has been injured most of the year and has been injured prone in his career. Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn has yet shown they are long term solution. In 2018, O’Hearn had a good year but nothing since then and Dozier had a good 2019, signed a long term deal but has disappointed since. Soler was the DH and occasional right fielder but while he had 13 homers at the break, he was hitting .192. (but is now hitting .285 with the Braves and 10 homers. He is looking like the Soler of 2019 who hit 48 homers and led the majors. ) Carlos Santana is only hitting .220 but does have 19 homers. Without consistent hitting behind the top four batters hurt the offense
The good news is that Royals have help on the way with Bobby Witt who has hit 31 homers and hitting over .300, M.J. Melendez with 36 homers and Nicky Pratto with 29 homers. They are others including Kyle Isabel who is hitting .271 with 15 homers at Omaha and Vinnie Pasquantino with 22 homers and hitting over.300 at high A and at Double A.
The question for the Royals, is how close are they? David Lesky noted, “Man, this Royals team is annoying, huh? They’re 10-9 against the White Sox, 4-3 against the Astros, 4-0 against the Brewers, 3-1 against the Mariners and you can even include 9-7 against the Tigers, who have been generally pretty good since the first month of the season. But even with the win last night, they’re under .500 against the Orioles, Rangers, Angels, Cardinals and Indians, all teams they should either beat or be competitive with. I talked last week about their record against mediocre teams, but the Orioles and Rangers are downright bad and the Royals weren’t able to win more than they lost against those teams this year.” Against the good teams, they have been competitive but to be a playoff team, you have to beat bad teams. They are 21-13 against White Sox, Mariners, Astros and Brewers but Indians and Cardinals have dominated the Royals.
David Lesky noted, “With the good, it means that they’ve got enough talent to beat these good teams. With the bad, it means that they probably aren’t treating all 162 as important. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world, but also if they’re ever going to actually win anything, they’ll need to find a way to bank wins against those teams.” He is right.
My own view is that 2022 can be like 2013, maybe 2014 but it comes down to the younger starters taking a step up. Hernandez looks like a top starter and Lynch has shown he can be a number two. Kowar and Singer have the skills and Keller is only 26 years. We are talking Kowar, Singer, Keller, Lynch, and Hernadez and if you want to go 6 man rotation, you have Bubic.
As for the offense, I don’t see O’Hearn or Dozier long term but Dozier has a long term deal but Witt, Jr is one of those one in a generation player who can play defense, run the bases and hit for power plus average. I am a homer for the Royals but there are holes in this team that need to be address. Michael Taylor is a great defensive center field but he is a .240 hitter. Can you afford a .240 center who plays great defense? Only if the other 7 or 8 hitters carry the load. If you have only 4 hitters, a good defensive center field who is a mediocre hitter is a unaffordable luxury. Mondesi is a good athlete who is now trying third base with Lopez staying at short and Merrifield at second. That could be a solid infield.
Pitching is the key and over the past three years, Royals drafting has drafted enough pitching potential. Royals Review concluded, “For all the criticism the Royals have borne in recent years for failing to develop enough talented pitchers to support their ambitions we must also give them credit now that they have begun producing valuable big league pitchers at such a high rate. Their recent success in drafting and development has opened up a path to contention not wholly-reliant on insane amounts of luck for the first time since at least 2017 and they must attack it with gusto. It is not an easy, simple, or safe path but it is a path. The saying goes that fortune favors the bold. The Royals were bold in drafting so many college pitchers at the start of the 2018 draft. They were bold in overhauling their development process to ensure these pitchers successfully reached the big leagues in a position to truly contribute to the success of the club. Now they must be bold enough to fill the remaining holes on the team with something more than cast-offs, bargains, or wishful thinking. If they do, we just might see the third Royals playoff team in the last nine years.”