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Same as it ever was

Fifty games in to the 2019 season feels the same as we found ourselves 50 games in to the 2018 season. It’s deja vu all over again.

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Kansas City Royals v St Louis Cardinals - Game Two Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

We make a lot of arbitrary end points in baseball. Especially this time of the season. You have the first 40 games of the year, representing about a quarter of the season. There’s the just-passed milestone of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer. And we are rapidly approaching game number 54 which is one-third of the 162 the Royals will play.

Game number 50 for the Royals was a loss. Unexceptional on the surface, it occurred last Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader against the Yankees. After all, this is a club that has dropped close to two-thirds of all games they’ve played to this point.

The loss dipped the Royals’ record to 17-33. That’s a winning percentage of .340 and, at the time, was the second worst mark in the AL. It felt similar to where they were about this time last season.

That’s because it was similar. The Royals record after 50 games in 2018 was the exact same as it was in 2019. 17-33.

Lather, rinse, repeat... and sigh.

Last year’s squad dropped 104 games, the most in the Dayton Moore era. These were depths not seen since Tony Pena jumped into the shower fully clothed to rally his team. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.) This year’s team has yet to write it’s own history, but the early returns are not promising.

While the teams of Moore’s early tenure flirted with 100 losses, they never stumbled so low. Of course, the marker came in 2011 with the debuts of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy. That team represented the genesis of The Process and dropped 91 games, which was a better mark from the 95 they lost the year prior. That was and improvement upon the 97 they lost in 2009.

The needle moved, but the fact that it never dropped below the 100 loss threshold didn’t matter so much. Those were the years the talent was assembling and percolating. You know the rest of the history where each subsequent team improved until they won more than they lost, peaking at 95 wins and a World Championship in 2015.

Back to 2019. No matter how you define success, this team isn’t having it. With the loss in game 51 followed by the walkoff the next afternoon, the Royals winning percentage now stands at .346 which projects to a 56-106 record. Which is worse than what we witnessed last year. It all feels familiar.

As the Royals see the losses pile up and the wins come ever so infrequently, their pythag won-loss record continues to fall more into step with their real-life record. The early season refrain of “these guys sure feel like they’re playing better than their record” has been replaced with “my god, this pitching is horrific.”

They’re a weird team in that they have a winning record in “blowouts” — in games decided by five or more runs they are 9-8. Credit goes to the offense for providing cover for the wretched pitching. The nine wins in blowouts is tied for the eighth-most in baseball. That’s something. The unreliability of the pitching feels like it’s underscored with a 4-9 record in one-run games. The four wins in one-run games ranks the Royals 27th.

The Royals’ starting rotation has been in relative good health. Once Monday’s game against the White Sox is completed, Homer Bailey will have started 11 games, giving the Royals four starters who have 10 or 11 starts. The fifth is Danny Duffy who opened the year on the injured list and has made six starts since his return. In this case quantity does not equal quality. Among pitchers who have thrown 40 innings, the Royals have three starters who rank in the bottom 14 percent in ERA-. Look, it’s difficult to find pitching. The Rockies and the Angels both have a pair of pitchers ranking that low. The problem here is the Royals are the only team with three.

Bailey (136 ERA-, 11th worst) is not part of the future of this team. Jorge Lopez (151 ERA-, 5th worst) and Jakob Junis (124 ERA-, 17th worst) may not be here when the next wave begins producing, but they are certainly counted on to bridge the gap. Their inability to make progress is alarming. While some fingers may be aimed at pitching coach Cal Eldred, I’m not entirely sure he has a lot to work with at this point.

While there may be some internal conversation about making a run for the second Wild Card (it is impossible to write that sentence without pausing for a full minute after being overcome with side-splitting laughter), there is no way that is happening. Not with this pitching. It is a paper-thin rotation that is exposed with regularity. While we will see calls for the Royals to do something about Bailey, Lopez and Junis, (or Eldred) the hard truth is there isn’t really anything the Royals can do. They are required to field a pitcher for eight or nine innings a night. It’s in the rulebook. Those innings have to come from somewhere. A lack of depth means a lack of options which means a mighty long leash for arms that wouldn’t ordinarily find themselves in that situation. But when the organization is drifting toward 100 losses, does it really matter?

Of course, not everything is gloom and doom in the organization. Yet while the developments coming from the minor leagues are promising, those arms are still quite away from Kansas City. Monday’s news that Brady Singer is set for a promotion to Double-A is a positive development, but a lot still needs to go right between now and when we will finally see the fruits of the 2018 draft in the majors.

In the meantime, the 2019 season continues apace. More losses than wins with the postseason ever a distant dream. Lather, rinse... repeat.