The Royals were flying high in April with a 16-9 record that was tops in all of baseball. And quicker than you can say “run differential” the Royals’ first place status vanished in a nine-game losing streak that now has them under .500.
How could a team that looked so good one month look so bad the next? We turned to our writing staff to assess the damage.
So...what happened to the Royals?
Hokius: A little bit of everything. They’ve endured bad defense, days where they can’t hit, the bullpen has blown some leads, and the starters haven’t been able to get deep. Oh, and Ángel Hernández was there, too. When you lose eight games in a row, all by more than one run, a lot of things had to go wrong.
Josh Keiser: They hit a valley that comes with an MLB season. Let’s not overreact here. They’ve been hit by injuries, “bad luck”, and bad play all while playing two big division foes, and the (arguably) best pitching prospect in the system was BLOWN up in his first couple of starts. It’s a lot of stars lining up at once and making things seem worse than they probably are. We were all very excited about the team that had the best record in baseball just a short time ago and a lot were already making their plans for the parade without remembering how long the MLB season is. After two BRUTAL sweeps, fans have started to point fingers and the pendulum is currently swinging (violently) the opposite direction. Every team in baseball will get hot and go on a run multiple times; same with the cold spells. It is what it is.
Max Rieper: They weren’t as good as their record indicated in April, so I expected some regression, but not ALL AT ONCE in one week of play. I don’t know what it is about this franchise and losing streaks, but when it rains, it seems to pour. I would agree with Josh though, that is kind of an anomaly and the team is likely not quite this bad, and are instead a slightly below .500 team as their overall record indicates.
Matt LaMar: So, here’s the thing: In our pre-season predictions, the Royals Review masthead had a median prediction for the Royals at 76-86 and 4th place in the division. Before Wednesday’s game, the Royals were in 3rd place and on pace for...exactly 76 wins. If you take a step back, the Royals are performing pretty much exactly at the pre-season consensus of their talent level.
As for why the Royals have already suffered a big losing streak, it’s pretty easy: this year’s Royals are a mediocre baseball team that is playing poorly and running into some bad luck at the same time. That, and the Royals are experts at losing a bunch early on.
Shaun Newkirk: I’d say they are just bad, and that’s mostly true, but also 10-game losing streaks take a bit more than just being a bad team. You need some bad luck and bad variance PLUS being a bad team. Losing a few straight to Cleveland and the White Sox? Okay sure, that’s what can happen to bad teams. Almost getting swept by the Tigers (before this afternoon’s game) though ain’t good.
Feels like just a week ago the Royals won two of three against the Angels and three of four against the Blue Jays.
What is the biggest area of concern right now?
Hokius: The rotation. It was a concern for me from the start of the season and it continues to be. Even when the starters are putting together excellent outings they’re so very rarely getting past the sixth inning that there’s a lot of pressure being placed on the bullpen. Early on, the bullpen was good enough and lucky enough to endure. But that only works as long as none of their top arms get hurt or start slumping a.k.a. things you absolutely cannot rely on.
Josh Keiser: For me, it’s the bullpen. I think the starting pitchers will hover around average all season. And the bats will eventually wake up. But I thought the bullpen had a lot of question marks/volatility coming into the season, and it’s only confirmed those concerns thus far. Hahn and Zimmer always have injury concerns. Staumont and Brentz are issuing more free walks than a neighborhood mall. And any team that is at all dependent on Holland, Wader, and Erv are going to fundamentally be in trouble. The starters aren’t going to be able to hide this weakness enough to not be concerned about it like a Dodgers rotation can, so at LEAST three of those guys need to figure it out in order for this team to sustain any success. There’s time and there are candidates, so I have faith, but my optimism is wearing out.
Max Rieper: The offense. The pitching hasn’t been good, but a lot of the guys are young, or at least in the part of their career where they will get better, and the ones that aren’t won’t likely be on the roster all year. Singer is inconsistent, but has overall has pitched quite well, Staumont and Barlow have been pretty solid out of the pen, and Jakob Junis actually seemed pretty good until they decided to mess around and stick him in the pen. We should probably start talking about where Danny Duffy will be traded to this summer.
The lineup, on the other hand, is old. It’s the fourth-oldest lineup in baseball, and we’re probably seeing some decline phases out of guys like Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier - all of whom are around 30 years old. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Salvy and Santana have second-half slides. And unlike the pitching, I don’t see much help on the way - Bobby Witt, Jr. may not be in the big leagues as fast as we might have hoped.
Matt LaMar: That we have to ask this question at all is an answer in and of itself. To think of it in the opposite direction: what are the Royals’ strengths? I’m not so sure there’s a good answer there. The defense is not good. They’ve got some good bullpen arms and starters, but overall they’ve performed rather poorly. Ditto the offense.
But I’m most concerned, probably, with the bullpen. With the exception of Hunter Dozier, the lowest-performing offensive players are either free agents at the end of this year or were already offensively suspect going into this year (or both, in the case of Michael A. Taylor). But the bullpen just needs far more talent. Nobody is elite, and their good pitchers are streaky (Scott Barlow), injury-prone (Kyle Zimmer), or have less-than-ideal control (Jake Brentz, Josh Staumont).
Shaun Newkirk: Just...everything. There are some bright-ish spots sprinkled throughout but when the majority of the roster is bad, this is what happens. As Max mentioned, they are old too - at least the lineup is. Some of those that aren’t even *that* old, are just bad: Nicky Lopez, Hanser Alberto, Ryan O’Hearn, Sebastian Rivero/Cam Gallagher, etc… The best younger player is Andrew Benintendi and he’s working on a 2-ish WAR season (aka average).
What needs to happen at this point for the Royals to be competitive?
Hokius: For starters, the lineup has to get their act together. At least one-third of the hitters have been slumping at all times this year. If they could score more runs more consistently it would take a lot of pressure off the rotation and the bullpen. And it’s the one area where you can look and easily see room for improvement. After that it’s the rotation for the reasons I outlined above. And, lest we forget, even if the starters give the team more innings per game they could run of total innings to offer relatively early in the season because of last year’s short season.
Josh Keiser: It’s a close call between the pen and the bats, but the bats have to wake up. HAVE to. THEY HAVE TO. Even during the Royals’ss’s’s time of winning in the first month, the bats were still below average in OPS, hard-hit %, and OBP. Since then, they’ve largely stayed the same outside of hitting the ball harder. Yes, I too am tired of hearing about hard-hit outs but it is definitely part of the discussion and I appreciate any silver linings after the last week. And between the pitching and the hitting, I have the most faith in the hitting figuring it out and there are plenty of players to point to for those signs of encouragement, but they’ve got to get there in order to stay competitive.
Matt LaMar: Pitching. The Royals are probably going to struggle offensively all year, but they’ve got legit pitching depth with upside. If the Royals are good, it’s because they have good pitching, period. The Royals also need Adalberto Mondesi to be a star, now. Not later, and not merely good. Nobody in the organization has his raw talent and track record.
Max Rieper: I agree with Matthew, the pitching has to be a lot better - they’ve given up 70 runs during the ten-game losing streak. We perhaps mistakenly thought they had a pretty set rotation, but they need to figure out the five best arms, and I’m not sure it is the names we had at the beginning of the season. The lineup probably is what it is right now, maybe Dozier and Soler can hit a bit better, but they’ll be a flawed offense all year.
Shaun Newkirk: Draft better from 2011-2017 and trade players better. I’m harping on this, I know, but you can’t fix a bad roster without replacing it with better players. I predicted the Royals record before the season at 75-87 and right now they are on pace for a 74-win season. Again, they aren’t the worst team in the league but their hot start and league-best record as the calendar month turned was overplaying just as losing ten straight was underplaying. Things ebb and then they flow and then they’ll ebb again.
Has the losing streak changed your opinion on what their final record will be? What do you predict now?
Hokius: I definitely tend to be a person who assumes the current state of the team will continue forever. When they were winning I was dreaming of a .600 record. Now that they’re losing I worry they’ll find 100 losses again. Which means they’re about on pace for where I saw them at the beginning of the year, a little below .500
Josh Keiser: Coming into the year, I predicted the Royals would win 83 games. And I was definitively the most optimistic writer at Royals Review. After seeing what I’ve seen over the past six weeks, I think I’m slightly more pessimistic now than I was. I’d lower the win total to 81 wins. My reasoning lies within those previously mentioned peaks/valleys. I think that the peak was April 1-April 28, when they went 15-8 against a mixture of good and bad teams (Blue Jays, Rays, Angels, Cleveland Baseball Team, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, and Pirates). I’m not trying to undersell 15-8, because that’s a playoff team pace. I’m more discouraged by the 10 game stretch since then, where they’ve gone 1-9 against division foes where they’ve been outscored by 37 runs. That’s more of a canyon/gorge/crevasse that is incredibly difficult to get out of than it is a nice little meadow-y valley that most of these dips are. If that’s how this season is going to go, 81 wins seems impossible. They are not that bad and I’ve seen plenty to think they can still get to 83 wins, but I’m going to take a bit of pressure off that first prediction and say 81 wins.
Max Rieper: I had them at 77 wins and I still think they can do that, but 95-100 losses is much more in play than I thought a few weeks ago, when I thought there was basically no chance that they’d be “Buddy Bell-bad.” I mean, they have had some injuries, but just imagine if they lose a Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, or Danny Duffy for an extended period of time.
Matt LaMar: Yeah, because good teams don’t lose nine straight. It’s really that simple. I don’t think that the Royals are going to get above 77-78 wins unless their second-half team is buoyed by prospects who are better than the washed-up veterans they’re replacing. Which, sure, I guess it could happen, but if the Royals truly are out of it in June and July, there’s no real reason to rush anybody to the bigs, making that less likely.
Shaun Newkirk: As mentioned, had them as a 75-win team rolling into the year and I’ll stick to it but I reserve the right to change it if they trade off a few pieces. However, they’ll get a bunch of more games against the Tigers (who they are better than), and then matchups against Pittsburgh (again), Texas (again), Baltimore, and then the vanilla flavoring that is the rest of the NL Central. Depending on the variance, that NL Central stretch could make or break losing 100 games or not.
What is the most pressing area of concern for the Royals?
This poll is closed