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Lesky’s Notes: A little easier to breathe with some wins

Mike Matheny put it best when he called that 11-game losing streak heavy.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When we last convened in this space, the Royals hadn’t won in nearly two weeks and were headed for a weekend in Chicago to face the best team in the league. With maybe some help from the seven-inning rule in a double header, they were able to snap the losing streak and trade wins with the White Sox. It’s a moral victory only, but I think the Royals can at least feel some pride in the fact that they played well enough to actually win three of four and it was just a pitcher who likely won’t be on the roster soon enough that lost the fourth game. That doesn’t change the standings, but it has to help the confidence. And then they had a really nice series against the Brewers where the pitching showed up, albeit against a bad offense, and the offense did just enough. I actually wrote about the diversity of the offense yesterday on Inside the Crown. And hey, go ahead and subscribe for FREE right now, friends!

I had an interesting discussion with Soren Petro on Monday about the Royals bullpen where I mentioned that getting Kyle Zimmer and Jesse Hahn back would return the bullpen to a deep unit rather than an incredibly shallow one. Petro kind of questioned that, but I’m going to double down on that statement because as I said on the show Monday, deep doesn’t necessarily mean great. And I think they’re missing a dominant arm to put at the back end. I love Josh Staumont, and he’s generally been better on the second half of working back-to-back days but games like he had on Wednesday night still make me wonder, even if only a little. Scott Barlow is one of my favorite arms too, but he has his occasional issues. There isn’t a 2014/2015 Wade Davis or 2014 Greg Holland or Kelvin Herrera in that bullpen right now. So yeah, I don’t think they’re great, but I do think getting those two arms back makes them much deeper.

And I look at it as sort of a pecking order. Right now, Staumont and Barlow are an easy 1-2, but with Zimmer and Hahn out, who was number three? It’s probably Jake Brentz, who has all of 18.1 big league innings. He’s been very solid, yes, but he’s also walked a ton of guys. It might be Tyler Zuber, who I thought looked really good when he first came up, much more like the guy we saw in the minors in 2019, but then he sort of reverted back to last year’s Zuber a lot of the time. Or maybe it’s 2021 Greg Holland, who was outstanding last season and has been much better of late (2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings since his blowup against Tampa in that freezing game with 12 strikeouts and five walks). The problem is that your bullpen has a chance when any of those guys are your fifth or sixth best reliever. When they’re third best, you’re toast if you’re missing either of your big guns. Hahn got pulled from an appearance in Omaha and now it seems like he may be awhile longer, so the bullpen is deeper, but still probably not deep enough.

I hadn’t noticed this until yesterday randomly, but Hanser Alberto hasn’t drawn any walks this season. He has come to the plate 82 times and not once has he accumulated four balls before anything else happened. Not only that, but he’s only gotten to a three ball count five times. All season. He’s only gotten to two balls 19 times. That’s crazy to me. And to his credit, he’s only struck out 11 times. We knew when the Royals signed him that he was a guy who put the ball in play. He had just a 2.6 percent walk rate and 12.1 percent strikeout rate in 973 plate appearances. But my issue with what he’s done this year is that he hasn’t produced. He was signed to be a guy who could start against some lefties and come off the bench against some to give the Royals some very real sock. The last two seasons, he’s hit .394/.411/.532 against them. In 2021, he’s hit .250/.273/.313.

The whole point of Alberto is the bat, specifically against lefties, and he just hasn’t delivered. He’s not good defensively, rating terribly at third and hardly seeing any time at second, which is where I assumed he’d play the most in a platoon with Nicky Lopez. Maybe getting Adalberto Mondesi back will get things back in order and put Alberto in the position he was expecting to be in to start the year, but I just have a hard time seeing his value on the field as a player. Maybe he’s a great clubhouse guy, and I get the value in that, but also you simply have to produce. He’s just not doing enough with his contact to really justify his roster spot. He isn’t talked about much, but I do wonder if he’s on borrowed time with Mondesi almost back.

Boy did I step in it on Sunday. With Salvador Perez nursing a sore groin, Cam Gallagher has gotten some much deserved time behind the plate. I say much deserved because he’s a very good defensive catcher. And to celebrate him catching, I made a point to discuss the wild pitches with Salvy behind the plate compared to those with Gallagher back there. Of course, there is a faction of the internet that does not like Salvy slander, no matter how true, so there was some backlash. And then, of course, the Royals ended up losing that game on what else but a wild pitch. So yeah, if you were wondering about my mentions after the game, they were in, let’s say, disarray.

But the point remains that Gallagher is a better defender than Perez. You can argue whether or not catchers “allow” wild pitches, but I’ve said for awhile now that I think Perez can get lazy when blocking pitches. Sometimes it has to do with his sheer size and sometimes it’s workload, but I just don’t love the way he blocks pitches. This season, Perez has been behind the plate for 274 innings and allowed 24 wild pitches. That wild pitch on Sunday was the second for Gallagher and he’s now caught 76.2 innings. In his career Gallagher has been behind the plate for 26 wild pitches, just two more than Perez this year, in 780 innings. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but Perez is much better behind the plate in reputation than he is in practice. If Cam can find that form that saw him hit .283/.356/.434 last year, I’d argue the Royals are better off with him catching about 60 percent of the time and Perez at DH. At least Salvy’s bat is enough to to handle that role now, whereas it was definitely not in the past.

The Royals have been so up and down now this season that I thought I’d never look at the upcoming schedule again in 2021, but here we are with them two games under .500 and still within shouting distance of competing, so why not? While the Tigers (series preview coming later!) have been on a good run lately, they still aren’t good and the Royals get them at home where they’re 2-0 in May outside of, you know, a winless homestand. If they can take care of business, they actually have a decent chance to make up some ground. After taking on the Tigers, they have a tough series in Tampa Bay and then three in Minnesota that I have no idea if it’ll be a tough series or if the Twins will have already packed it in. If they’ve already packed it in, they get three in Minnesota, then two against Pittsburgh and then four more against the Twins before going to LA to see the Trout-less Angels for three.

That’s a total of 18 games with just three of them against a team that’s any good in the Rays. I personally think this team is pretty much what most thought they were. They’re fine. Probably within a few games of .500 other way, and I believed they’d be 76-86. But if they believe they’re contenders, this is a stretch of games that they need to be really good in. They have to take two of three from Detroit and sweep the two from the Pirates. They probably need to take two of three from the Twins in Minnesota and then three of four from them in Kansas City. Do that and they have nine wins in 12 games without even accounting for the road games in Tampa and LA. Just go 2-4 in those six and they’re sitting at 11-7 in the 18-game stretch and 31-29 before they have to deal with the A’s in Oakland for four and then a quick break to play the Tigers again before they get the Red Sox and Yankees and then Red Sox again in a pretty short turnaround. If they really want to be contenders, this is an important three week period coming up.