The Royals were hoping for 2017 to be the scene of one more magical run with their core group of players before they departed via free agency. Instead, the team stumbled out of the game, getting swept in a disastrous series in Minnesota, then going 7-16 in the month of April, burying themselves in a hole they found difficult to climb out of.
The team has had ups and downs since then, at one point looking firmly in the Wild Card race. Now they sit at the periphery of the race, which leads one to wonder - what would have happened had that disastrous April not taken place? What if we just pretend that was an extra month of spring training, a time to work out the kinks?
Here is what the standings look like since May 1, which I am now considering Opening Day. April is a fool’s month!
The hot Indians wouldn’t have stuck around for the Royals to compete in the Central, but the Royals would be firmly in place for the second Wild Card spot, even with some of the pitching problems they have had down the stretch. The rest of the Wild Card contenders - well it looks like they have been mediocre all season. Taking out April doesn’t do anything for them. At least they’re consistently mediocre.
The good place for the Royals since April can be attributed in large part to the offense. If you remember, in April they were setting records for offensive futility. Since then, the offense has been about league-average, with 4.67 runs-per-game, ninth in the American League.
The offense has been carried, in large part, by Eric Hosmer. Remember his awful April? Seems like a distant memory now. Since then, he has hit .338/.406/.541. He would be second in the league in batting average, and sixth in wRC+ with 151. Here is what the hitters would look like overall.
Brandon Moss as a near-league average hitter! What an alternate history!
The pitching - well it would still have many of the same problems. The pitching was actually quite good in April, particularly starters like Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, and Ian Kennedy. Since then, many of the pitchers have been hurt or regressed or both. The team overall has a 4.66 ERA - with the bullpen actually pitching much better since a rough start. Relievers have a 4.07 ERA since April, compared to 5.07 for the starters.
In particular, Ian Kennedy has had a rough go since the first month, as he has allegedly had to pitch through some pain. Jason Vargas has regressed as well after he was probably the league’s best pitcher in April. The middle relievers have been better, but the Royals have had some struggles from Kelvin Herrera. Joakim Soria has had a crazy year, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a reliever with such a huge difference between his ERA and FIP.
Does this mean much? Not really, I just wanted to play around with splits and arbitrary end points for a bit and imagine a world in which the Royals have a really good shot at making the playoffs. But the Royals have historically been a slow-starting team, and in this season, it looks like a sluggish start may have had a big part in dooming their season.