Some people will tell you that after only six games it’s way too early to know much of anything about the 2019 Royals. But in the six games they’ve played they’ve pretty much shown me what I expected to see before the season started so I’m going to entirely disregard that. Particularly after watching Wednesday’s game I think we’ve seen both the best and the worst of this team and it should serve as a template of what to expect for most of this season.
In the bottom of the fifth inning of that game, the Royals showed us how building the team for speed can work. After Billy Hamilton took a rare walk he stole second - speed. Then when Whit Merrifield hit a groundball single into left Hamilton scored from second - speed. Adalberto Mondesi followed that up by reaching on an infield single - speed. Then Alex Gordon broke up the speed party with a three-run blast to center field. Jorge Soler reached base when Jorge Polanco threw the ball away. Polanco probably wasn’t intimidated by Soler’s speed, but perhaps he was rattle or unfocused because of what all the Royals speedsters had already done and didn’t take the time or have the concentration to make a proper throw. Ryan O’Hearn singled to center and Soler went first to third - speed. Chris Owings drove in Soler with a single to right. Without speed the Royals score no runs in that inning - Alex Gordon never comes up without Mondesi’s infield hit.
The Royals scored five runs because of speed that steals bases, that takes extra bases on hits, and reaches first on a groundball. That’s what speed can do for this team. They can wreak havoc on the opponent’s defense. When the Royals offense is working correctly, this is what it can look like. If even one speedster gets on the situation can quickly snowball out of control for opponents who feel pressured to try and slow the Royals down. The problem is that first bit: getting a speedster on base, to begin with. If the offense stops getting on-base as much as they have been so far they’ll be dead in the water. If you’re wondering how likely that is I’d point you Baseball Reference which indicates that through six games the Royals have a slightly above average OPS+. With guys like Owings, Martín Maldonado, Lucas Duda, and Billy Hamilton anchoring the bottom of the lineup do you really expect that to last?
There is more to the team than it’s position players, though
Homer Bailey made his Royals debut and he pitched five innings allowing three runs while striking out eight. It wasn’t a terrible performance but neither was it great. It wasn’t exactly a quality start but it was good enough to keep the Royals in the game. That’s more or less what his rotation mates gave the Royals last year and they appear to be on pace to continue doing that. So they have what has been an averagish offense and an averagish rotation through one week. The bullpen, however, is an entirely separate issue.
Did you know Windows doesn’t even come with Minesweeper pre-installed anymore? And if you download it from their store it includes ads now? How ridiculous is that? Anyway, if you’re young enough to have no clue what Minesweeper is it’s a time-killing game that used to be included in every copy of Windows for free. It’s a puzzle in which the user attempts to deduce where all of the mines are by clicking on a grid and hoping that what pops up is a number of adjacent squares that are mines instead of having a mine explode in their face.
BabyBlues is dead on here. I’d actually go a step further and argue that the bullpen is like an entire game of Minesweeper on hard. Much like hard-mode Minesweeper’s massive board the first time the Royals go to the bullpen it can seem like an insurmountable task because the Royals starters aren’t going very deep into games. Also like hard-mode Minesweeper, Ned is very likely to have something blow up in his face the first time he points to what looks like a possible answer. And, like hard-mode Minesweeper, even if you survive that first move you have to make so many more before you get to the end that you’re probably still going to blow yourself up before you can get there no matter how hard you try.
The Royals’ bullpen has not given up fewer than two runs in any game so far this season. We’re only six games in. They could all turn into vintage Wade Davis before our very eyes and make me look silly for fretting. But a stretch of six games where the relievers walk more than they strike out and give up at least two runs a game just doesn’t seem likely to reach heights even so lofty as “slightly below average”.
The most frustrating thing about the bullpen is that the rest of the team has been good enough for the first week that if they could have just done their job once or twice the team would be .500 or better instead of 2-4. Would that make a difference by the end of the season? Eh... probably not. But if the bullpen doesn’t improve in a hurry we’re all going to look silly for predicting only 85-90ish losses by the end of the year after the rotation and lineup have a chance to go through some skids of their own.