The first week or two of a baseball season can be filled with starts and stops, and it makes it kind of difficult to get into a groove. That’s true for players, coaches, umpires and heck, even writers. The Royals have been lucky enough to have been a part of three home openers in the span of eight days. One, of course, was their own, but all three were in cities where the schedule makers provide a day off just in case because the weather can be unpredictable in Kansas City, Cleveland and Chicago in April. But after today’s off day, baseball as we remember it can begin, though there is rain in the forecast in Chicago all weekend, so maybe not, but let’s assume they play it all. The Royals are scheduled for 12 days in a row before an off day and including those 12 will play 85 games in 93 days. Ahh yes, the grind is returning. I’m ready for it.
I haven’t seen a lot of talk on this, but Andrew Benintendi’s bat looks slow. Velocity has seemed to eat him up early in the season and he isn’t turning on much of anything. Of his 17 batted balls so far, only four have been pulled. There were two others just to the right of second, but those would be classified as up the middle, and it’s a little bit concerning. I think there’s something to him having to adjust to a new team, new city and all that all while trying to revert back to a style that made him successful before a completely lost 2020. This is not what you want to see from one of your key offseason acquisitions.
But he hasn’t had a single extra base hit and while he’s hitting the ball hard enough, he hasn’t barreled much of anything. I wrote on Inside the Crown (hey, subscribe today...it’s still free!) before the season that I expected Benintendi to start slow, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by this, but I really didn’t expect his bat to seem as slow as it has. He hasn’t had a single hit on a pitch thrown 93 MPH or harder and he doesn’t really seem to have been all that close actually. His highest exit velocity on those pitches is 96.3 MPH and only two of the eight batted balls have been hit harder than 77.3 MPH. So we’ll see how it goes, but the start isn’t great for him.
And speaking of not great starts, I guess we have to talk about Brad Keller after his second bad start of the year to start the season. You may recall that I’ve mentioned in far too many spots that I’m concerned about injury. My reasoning originally was that he threw fewer sliders in his first start and his velocity was spiked a bit, which can be a sign of future injury. It was enough of a concern that I was really curious to see his start on Wednesday against the Indians. And then after 51 pitches in his first start, the Royals pushed him back in spite of talking up a four-man rotation to start the year all spring.
So he comes out against the White Sox and the command was essentially non-existent and he got absolutely mauled after getting the first two batters out. So is he hurt? I have to admit that I still have no idea, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone. He looked better in the third at least before getting pulled in the fourth before the lineup turned over a third time. And he said all the right things after the game, so we’ll continue to wait and see. The slider was incredibly inconsistent yesterday and his velocity was all of the place with his fastballs, so I guess we’ll have to see what’s going on in his next start, which should be against the Angels, another good offense. It might get worse before it gets better.
The beauty of the off days finally coming to an end is that Mike Matheny can finally start to line up the bullpen. I can’t remember what broadcast I was watching this past week (it might have been the Royals, but this feels like too good of a point for them) and whichever one it was mentioned that teams really use the first few weeks of the season to figure out the bullpen pecking order. And with this particular team, they don’t necessarily have one guy who is the closer. Coming into the season, you could make an argument for Greg Holland, Jesse Hahn, Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow or Kyle Zimmer. So far, Holland and Hahn have struggled some, but I’m curious what happens with extra work.
The encouraging thing is that Barlow, Zimmer and Staumont have looked really good. Jake Brentz has also been impressive, but it’s hard to trust someone with so little experience. And if Jakob Junis is back in the bullpen, he sure looks the part of someone who could be a difference maker. With 162 games this year, they have a chance to go through some trial and error while they didn’t have that opportunity last season. I have faith that this bullpen will be very good for this team once the schedule settles down, so that’s my dose of optimism after a couple rough days for the Royals.
With the season being so long, we don’t spend a lot of time evaluating the schedule. That’s partially why last season was so different. The schedule actually had an impact on how the season progressed. But I’ve always found it interesting to look at chunks of the schedule to see how the next week or two might shape up. The Royals started their season with a bad Rangers team and an Indians team that is probably never going to be bad or anything but definitely isn’t what they were even last season. But now things are starting to get tough for them, and it didn’t start off great!
With the White Sox for two more, they then come home to face three teams many believe will be in the postseason in the Angels, Blue Jays and Rays. That’s a 13-game stretch where if they go something like 7-6, I think we can start to talk seriously about the team being better than average. I also don’t think it’s a huge blow to what this team probably is if they go 4-9 or 5-8 and come out of the games at 7-11 or 8-10. They then get a six-game road trip to Detroit and Pittsburgh to balance the scales a bit and the month ends with the first of three in Minnesota. Assuming no rainouts, which as I said before isn’t that safe an assumption, they do have a shot at a .500 month. These next 12 remaining games in their tough stretch will tell the story.