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The solution to the Royals’ problems is simple, but does not exist

‘Be better’ is hardly a good motto.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There has been a lot of terrible sportsball that has happened in Kansas City—more awful sportsball than most other places in America, really. They’ve led to a number of hilarious anecdotes and cringeworthy on-field moments.

None of these moments of transcendent failure quite matched up to Kansas City Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel’s hilariously dubious attempt at motivating his team, a team that won two games in a 16-game season. His motto: ‘Eliminate bad football.’

A giant sign outside the Chiefs locker room Wednesday told the story of the season: Eliminate bad football.

The Chiefs are trying to salvage the season after two crushing losses in their first two games of the season. Kansas City travels to New Orleans to take on the Saints at noon Sunday on KCTV5.

Because of a number of injuries, coach Romeo Crennel delayed players practicing in pads until Thursday.

Crennel said both the Chiefs and Saints are struggling.

"So we'll see if we can improve some of the things we need to improve to try to win a game," Crennel said. "So that's where we are."

General Manager Scott Pioli spent more time at practice Wednesday than he normally does.

"What I've found over the years is we try to work on the things that are causing you problems and improve those things, then you have a chance to get better," Crennel said. "That's what we're trying to focus on doing."

This is not an Onion article. This happened. Here in the same city that the Kansas City Royals call home. Crennel, a professional coach at the highest level of competitive American football, and Pioli, professional general manager of said team, were telling their team to be less bad and be good instead.

Crennel and Pioli knew that their team was horrible. Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn were their quarterbacks, after all, and Dwayne Bowe was their top receiver. But their method of motivation was, well, not good. Players know better than anyone that they need to eliminate bad football. It was Crennel’s job to explain how to eliminate bad football, and it was Pioli’s job to acquire players who played more good football than bad football.

The Royals have come a long way from being the type of disgusting Cassel/Crennel/Pioli-style meatloaf that has existed far too often in Kansas City over the last few decades. The obvious thing is, you know, a large flag flying in left field with the words "Hahahahahahaha Mets Defense" "2015 World Series Champions," but equally obvious is the way that the Royals’ coaching staff has handled their recent adversity compared to the 2012 Chiefs dumpster fire:

Manager Ned Yost doesn't believe there is one single issue stopping his team from gaining any traction, even though the club has been besieged by injuries.

"I'm not going to use injuries as an excuse," Yost said. "We've been inconsistent at times offensively. When we got our pitching and hitting together, that's when we have gone on runs.

"But then we've had inconsistency, too, with our starting pitching. It's a lot of things."

Yost also doesn't believe that getting frustrated is productive.

"There's no reason to get frustrated about it," Yost said. 'You just deal with it."

So what needs to happen for the Royals to go on another run?

"Just win some games," Yost said. "Get some stops, put some runs on the board and score more than they do. Simple as that. There are no easy fixes. You just go play the game."

Yost shows some good leadership characteristics here. He refuses to use excuses for himself, his staff, and his players. He cautions against instant gratification and quick fixes. He also eschews the easy route of frustration, rightfully espousing calmness in a lengthy, 162-game season.

But read this again:

So what needs to happen for the Royals to go on another run?

"Just win some games," Yost said. "Get some stops, put some runs on the board and score more than they do. Simple as that. There are no easy fixes. You just go play the game."

Again to Yost’s credit, that’s a response to a journalist asking him a question. Athletes are rarely apt to give an incisive, informative interview. Removing all the ‘Uhs,’ ‘Ums,’ and ‘You knows’ from transcripts requires the entire energy output of Estonia. But here, we can read between the lines and see that Yost is basically saying the same thing as Crennel and Pioli: ‘we need to do better and play the game less badly.’ In a query asking how the Royals need to do win more games, Yost is giving a literal response from the rulebook on how baseball teams win games in general.

All this to say: the Royals are not a very good baseball team.

Does this mean the Royals are bad, or awful a la the 2012 Chiefs or any Royals team from 1995-2012? Do the Gilmore Girls speak slowly and only date ugly men???

(No. The answer is no.)

What it does mean is that the Royals are facing an uphill battle to get to the playoffs? Even on a recent slide that has seen Kansas City lose four of their last five and 10 of their last 16, the Royals are on pace for 84 wins. With the addition of the second Wild Card spot, the Royals have a workable path to the playoffs. Last year, the Houston Astros squeaked into the second Wild Card slot with 86 wins, beat the New York Yankees in the Wild Card game, and took the Royals to five games in the American League Divisional Series.

But the biggest obstacle isn’t other teams—it’s the Royals themselves. Yost’s comment that there is no easy fix is true because the easy fix is to have a better team. The solution to the Royals problem is simple - be better - but that’s not a real solution, as Crennel found out when he was fired at the end of the 2012 season.

More importantly, the Royals aren’t good in multiple areas. They aren’t a finely tuned machine with one weak point; they have multiple competing weak points. In baseball, you have to score runs and prevent runs. Scoring runs is due to the offense, and preventing runs is heavily impacted by starting pitching, who pitch the majority of the innings. And the Royals...

  • Runs per game: 4.00, 14th in AL
  • Starter ERA: 5.05, 12th in AL

The Royals have made their living on a deathly constricting bullpen and an elite defense. But you can’t get to your top relievers if starters can’t survive long enough to pitch a few decent innings, and the Royals’ innings pitched by starters is 30th out of 30 teams in baseball. And your excellent defense can’t help you if you give up lots of home runs, and Royals starters are, again, dead last in baseball.

A month ago I wrote that the Royals’ boat probably has too many holes in it for another title run.

But the Royals are walking a razor-thin line with no margin for error. Hosmer has been hitting like Miguel Cabrera, and his breakout brilliance has been propping up the lineup; a return to his norms would be a gigantic blow. In the rotation, Ian Kennedy probably isn't carrying an ERA in the low threes for the whole year, and Danny Duffy was shifted to the bullpen for a reason. Kansas City basically needs Eibner, Merrifield, and Cuthbert to be productive regulars. Top prospects fail all the time, and even top prospects take time to really grow into their game. The Royals can't afford the Rookie Trio to do that, and none of them were ever top prospects.

It's not time to abandon the ship yet. This team still has a lot of talent, and there have been a lot of encouraging things to see this year.

Since then, Hosmer and Eibner have cooled way off, though Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert have been pretty decent. Merrifield scored the tying run yesterday and has against all odds continued to hit at about a league-average level.

In addition, after I wrote that article, the Royals have suffered more injuries. Kris Medlen suffered a shoulder injury in a rehab outing in the minors and is back on the shelf; Medlen looks to be boarding the Felipe Paulino Memorial Train of Permanent Injury. Kyle Zimmer still hasn’t pitched (he is also conductor of previous train, at the moment). Brett Eibner went on the DL. Lorenzo Cain went on the DL. Wade Davis went on the DL. Mike Minor hasn’t pitched in over a month. Chris Young went on the DL, and is also terrible.

The Royals are in a weird spot, too. Their cavalry is all gone after the 2017 season, and important pieces in the 2015 Championship run, including Luke Hochevar, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen, and Edinson Volquez will be gone after this year. At the same time, the Royals have a pretty good collection of hitters in the minor leagues. Hunter Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Bubba Starling, Raul Mondesi, and Ryan O’Hearn are all on track to make their debut this year or next year. Do the Royals trade some of those guys for pitchers to make another playoff run this year? Is Kansas City really comfortable with letting their next crop of hitters go? Could Dayton Moore even decide to trade some of the Major League talent to free payroll space and flexibility?

None of those prospects listed will have an immediate impact. Furthermore, unless Moore really goes nuts to acquire multiple pieces, like Julio Teheren and Jay Bruce, there won’t be enough talent coming in to make the Royals jump from their current tier.

The sad fact is that this year’s Royals team just isn’t very good. Part of it is out of their control; a reading of players who have been on the disabled list is also a reading of important players for the team in the short and long term. Part of it is due to underperformance. Part of it is due to the random variance we see every year in baseball.

As Kevin wrote this morning, we can still recognize the Royals’ statistical unlikelihood of making the playoffs again at the same time we can root for them. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

Really, this is just more new ground for us as fans. In the last few years, we’ve had an up-and-coming team, two championship-quality teams, and now we have to deal with the realistic possibility that the Royals’ championship window is closing, maybe even faster than we thought. This happens to every team, but we haven’t had to cope with this particular situation since George Brett still played and music was recorded on rocks.

We’ll get through, surely. History emphasizes that counting out these Kansas City Royals is a repeatedly poor bet.