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Hok Talk: The missing piece

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The Royals are missing a key component of a winning club.

I just like this picture of Adalberto Mondesi smiling
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: It’s June, and the Royals’ most consistent hitter is their left-fielder. The designated hitter might be the worst hitter on the team. Their most dynamic player can’t seem to stay on the field. The third baseman had a tremendous spring, but now everyone wants him demoted to AAA. Everyone else in the starting lineup is kind of meh, at best, except for the middle infielder who couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag.

The Royals can’t seem to find a fifth starter no matter where they look. One starter made his major league debut and couldn’t get out of the first inning. They have three relievers you feel confident in but then just a bunch of question marks. A few guys have massive ERAs, and you think to yourself, there must be someone in Omaha who can pitch better than they are.

Fans are calling for the heads of coaches and general manager alike. There is much fretting about how if the Royals aren’t far enough out of first place, Dayton Moore might try to trade some of the all-important prospects away for help winning now when he should be dumping veterans for whatever he can get.

You’re an astute Royals Review reader, so I assume you figured out that the above paragraphs describe both the 2014 and 2021 Royals. This is not a declaration that the 2021 Royals are as good as the 2014 Royals or even that they will be by the end of the season. For one thing, the 2021 Royals have already gone on two stretches of failure that put the season-worst, five-game losing streak in May 2014 to shame. For another, those 2014 Royals were remarkably healthy; their top position 10 players all played 120 games or more when things were said and done - Lorenzo Cain had an early-season injury that kept him sidelined a lot early but played the entire second half. The 2021 Royals have or will lose significant time from at least three of their projected starters.

Even so, these Royals remind me a lot of those Royals. When the 2014 Royals won games, it often felt like they did it by the skin of their teeth and because some guys were playing over their heads, and you wondered if they would find a way to get things running on all cylinders or when the mirage would fall apart entirely. Things were also a bit of a rollercoaster ride early in the year; both teams started off winning games, then lost a bunch, then won a bunch again. The 2014 Royals did get scorching hot in the middle of June and reeled off a 10-game winning streak to right the ship before they started floundering again, but there’s still technically time for the 2021 Royals to do the same thing.

The 2014 squad is not the only one of which this team reminds me. I also think a lot about the 2013 squad when I look around now. In a lot of ways, the 2013 and 2014 squads were very similar, too. Their absolutely abysmal May sunk them because, despite a winning second-half, they just mixed in too many losing streaks along with the winning streaks. They couldn’t find the consistency.

That’s the biggest difference between 2013 or 2021 and 2014: consistency. The 2014 Royals had some bad times, but in the second half, they found some real consistency that helped drive them to and through the playoffs. Some people like to credit Raul Ibañez’s rousing speech near the All-Star Break for the team finding that consistency. Still, however they did it, the longest losing streak suffered in 2014 was five. This was despite all the negative feelings that surrounded the team around the All-Star Break. The 2013 Royals had a losing streak almost twice that long in May and two more at least that long in the second half. The 2021 Royals already have an April better than either 2013 or 2014 but two losing streaks that were worse than in either year, too.

In every sport, there is an emphasis on consistency over results. No one is perfect, and so no athlete ever makes it through life without occasionally losing. But the best athletes who can consistently replicate their efforts near their highest capabilities will win more often than others. In no sport is this more true than baseball; failure is a given. Short bursts of luck will not carry you far with a season as long as this one, either.

There’s still plenty of time for the Royals to turn this season around; as of this writing, they are still only seven games under .500 with more than half a season left to play, including more than enough games against the two teams ahead of them for the Royals to have some control over their own destiny.

This may be a controversial statement, but the 2021 Royals have enough talent to make the playoffs. The only question is whether the players can muster something approximating their best possible effort consistently enough to turn things around as the 2014 team did or if they will continue instead to endure fits of inconsistency that ultimately prove them to be unequal to the challenge as happened in 2013.