Yesterday was the Royals second off day since the break. They played 17 straight days out of the break and then had a day off and played 17 games in 16 days. I’m sure that was tough on the players, especially with so many of those games in the heat, but can anyone think about us, the fans and writers? I even took a short vacation in the middle and I still was exhausted by the end of Wednesday night’s game. I welcomed the day off yesterday. I’m thinking my wife did too. It was a night of no baseball on the television. No, friends, I put baseball on the iPad while she took control of the remote. Even so, it’s going to be much more smooth sailing the rest of the year. The Royals only play as many as nine days in a row, at least as currently scheduled, throughout the rest of the season. That’ll be nice as we ease our way into an offseason that might be one of the bigger offseasons for the Royals since the 2015/2016 winter. I feel like I’ve said that before, but with the farm system sort of emptied out at the big league level now, the time to pounce is right now and there are questions about who is on the field and who is off it that need to be answered.
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I’ll get to the 2023 schedule down this list, but something that struck me over the last few days as odd is that we haven’t had a “normal” season since 2019. We know that 2020 was different because it was only 60 games long, but that had a huge impact on 2021 as well. Pitchers were left with small innings totals to build toward from the previous seasons and teams were probably more careful than most fans would have liked because of that. Then this season was supposed to be normal, but the lockout made spring training so short that it probably took a good two months before pitchers were throwing as many pitches in starts as they had in previous years. Was the ramp up too slow? Maybe, but that’s the reality of what happened around the game for most teams, especially those with young arms. But looking ahead to 2023, it’ll be the first time since 2019 that a season was played with a full spring training, coming off a full season and playing a full season. How is that relevant to the Royals outside of it being relevant to all of baseball? I’m glad you asked.
I think it’s fair to look at this Royals team being so young and, as I’ve mentioned in the past, seeing a bunch of players who have never played a 162-game schedule and many of whom are playing every single day without every Monday off for the first time. You’ll see I mention this in the series preview that drops later today, but Daniel Lynch might be wearing down again. Brady Singer has looked, at times, a bit fatigued, missing arm-side quite a bit a couple of starts ago. Bobby Witt Jr. went through a rough patch that he just broke a week ago with some swing adjustments. MJ Melendez has gone through the ups and downs. Nick Pratto is currently going through it. I think the abnormal seasons have likely had more of an impact on young players than the veterans who have figured out a way to work through just about anything. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s just my opinion. It’s not a reason that the Royals have struggled this year. They have no excuse in that regard, especially when you consider they struggled so much with a lineup filled with a lot of veterans when they were at their worst. But I’m personally excited to see a season that is just a normal season to see how the Royals can handle it.
Throughout the season, a manager will make this decision or that decision and someone (or multiple someones) will cry out that doing this or that is a fireable offense. Often, that’s not the case. As I put it on Twitter to someone who asked me, there’s a difference between a manager doing something that goes against conventional wisdom (or as some might put it, logic) that you disagree with and the manager doing something to actively take his player away from the best possibility to succeed. On Tuesday night, the Royals were tied at one with the Diamondbacks when Josh Staumont came into the game. Staumont has been inconsistent, at best, this season and honestly, bad for awhile. He struggled through the seventh inning, but only ultimately allowed one run. He threw 17 pitches in that seventh inning. But as the Royals were batting in the bottom half of the inning, nobody was throwing. And, sure enough, Staumont came out in the eighth. He threw 25 pitches, including 17 in two walks to the final two batters. That’s more pitches than he’d ever thrown in a big league game. About 18 hours later, Staumont was on the IL with biceps tendinitis.
I wish that wasn’t predictable. The pitcher who had spent time on the IL already and was having trouble maintaining any velocity was hurt after throwing more pitches than he’d ever thrown in his career. The Royals kept saying they had a thin bullpen and needed innings, but they only had three more to cover. And one of the pitchers who was obviously available, Luke Weaver, had been a starter earlier this season. Surely he could have thrown the eighth and the ninth and gotten the Royals the bullpen cover they needed for one game. But throwing Staumont for that second inning put a pitcher in harm’s way, no matter what they say about how minor the injury is or how “up for it” Staumont was on Tuesday night. The Royals have a bullpen problem, but a healthy Staumont is part of the solution moving forward. He was legitimately good in 2020 and 2021. Maybe he can never recapture that, but I can promise you he won’t be able to recapture that on the IL and while there’s more to blame than just Matheny, he’s public enemy number one in this particular situation.
Gotta fix that pitching
The Royals do not have a good pitching staff. They have the fifth-worst ERA in baseball. Their FIP is fourth-worst. Their xFIP is worst. They hav the highest walk rate in baseball and the second-lowest strikeout rate. They’ve stranded the sixth-lowest percentage of runners and I could go on, but you get the picture. But! Their starters in the second half have been…okay. They have a 3.76 ERA with a worse but still not horrific 4.26 FIP. They still aren’t striking enough batters out and are walking too many, but Singer has done wonders to make the starting staff look decent over the last 34 games to start the post-break schedule. The issue is the bullpen has one consistently good pitcher in Scott Barlow, one guy I think most people generally trust in Dylan Coleman, one guy who is getting results but still walks too many in Amir Garrett and then a lot of questions. I mentioned Staumont’s troubles and now they’re trying to put Carlos Hernandez and Brad Keller into a short-inning role, which I think can work, but I don’t know will work. If the Royals hope to compete next season, which is hard to imagine, but you can at least see the main pieces in place, they need to do something.
The first step is the easiest and it’s to replace Cal Eldred with someone who is competent. They don’t even have to be good to see an improvement, just competent. I’d prefer good, but the nice thing is there’ll be an inherent improvement with anyone who isn’t terrible at their job. Bullpens are the quickest fixes in baseball. The problem for the Royals is that a lot of their hope for a good bullpen is that Taylor Clarke comes back as good as he was for a lot of the season (but not as bad as he was for some of the season), Garrett can continue to get outs without having any semblance of control, Staumont is healthy and Hernandez/Keller take to the bullpen. I’m not sure how you can predict any of that. Getting more innings from starters will help. I’m going to break a statistics rule, but taking out the terrible blown game in New York where they gave up eight in the eighth, the bullpen has a 1.65 ERA in five games following Singer starts. Even with it, they’re at 3.44. They’re at 5.48 in games after everyone else’s starts. Singer is averaging about 19 outs per start and the rest of the staff is at about 15. He gives them a break while the rest of the staff puts them to work. But beyond that, they might have to spend a little money. They should get Richard Lovelady back next season, but I’d bring in some reinforcements as well.
The 2023 schedule was dropped on Wednesday afternoon, literally two hours after I texted a friend saying, “I thought next year’s schedule was usually out by now.” So clearly MLB is reading through my texts. Sorry they’re so boring, Rob. I’m not going to go through the schedule and assign wins and losses to every game because that’s silly when you already have a team going 158-4. But it is an interesting schedule as every team will play every team for the first time, so that limits the number of division games the Royals will play, which might limit their wins a little bit. They’ve struggled with the Guardians and Twins, but they’re 15-11 against the White Sox and Tigers and it’s pretty clear that the AL Central is not an especially good division. But still, the first thing I noticed is that the Royals aren’t going on the road for what seems like every tough four-game series outside the division. This season, they had four games in Houston, New York, Toronto and Tampa Bay. Those are the four best teams in the AL as of yesterday and the Royals had to go to their homes for their four-game sets while their home games were against a stumbling Red Sox team and a not yet playing well Orioles team.
I personally like balancing the schedule a little bit, especially with the playoffs expanding the way they have. I think this probably sets up for expansion to add a couple of teams and completely realign the way the game is played. And to play every team in the other league sets that up as well. I hated the idea of interleague play where you only played one other division but still played your “natural” rival twice in a season. I think it sets up for a more fair run to the postseason among teams jockeying for position. And it’ll be fun to see some teams that we haven’t seen in KC for awhile. The Braves will be here for the first time since 2019. The Rockies for the first time since 2017. The Mets for the first time since 2019. And The Nationals for the first time since 2016. So that part will be fun. The one thing I’m eyeing that I don’t like is it does appear the Royals will have two scheduled days off in a row on May 31 and June 1, so get your complaining in now for that one. But overall, I’m curious how this will go.