For the most part, the Royals were successful on their most recent road trip which included stops in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. The Royals went 6-3, and are currently still in first place in the AL Central standings by 1.5 games over the second-place Chicago White Sox. Thus, it is easy to get excited for the Royals’ upcoming home stand, especially with news breaking about capacity expanding at Kauffman Stadium for May.
That being said, the Royals’ most recent series didn’t exactly end the road trip on a positive note. While the Royals ended up avoiding the sweep with their 11-3 win on Saturday, they lost 9-1 on Friday night and 13-4 on Sunday afternoon. Over the three-game series, the Twins were able to outscore the Royals 25-16, and in the process, not only did the Twins escape the cellar of the AL Central (they are currently six games behind the Royals; the Tigers are now in last place with a record of 8-21), but the Royals enter this week’s home stand with a negative run differential (-3) as well.
Of course, I do not want to be a total downer by any means. The Royals are 16-10 as of May 2nd, and I think any Royals fan would have been more than happy with that result a month ago once the regular season started. After all, this was a Royals squad that has not had a winning record since 2015, and was projected to win around 70-71 games by most experts in the pre-season. The fact that the Royals are six games over .500 and are in first place in the division in May should not be ignored or overlooked.
However, the Royals will be having a huge home stand which will come against division foes Cleveland and Chicago. If the Royals do well in this home stand, then the Royals could put some serious space between them and the rest of the division. On the other hand, a rough campaign at the K could result in the Royals not only ceding their place at the top of the division, but also hurting their postseason chances, which have grown exponentially since the start of the season.
Thus, let’s take a look at a few concerns Royals fans may have as we begin the seven-game home stand on Monday against the Indians.
Can the Royals offense find consistency in the home stand?
The Royals offense was a bit of an up and down swoon throughout the road trip. The Royals had some offensive explosions, as evidenced on Saturday, as Andrew Benintendi hit two home runs against the Twins at Target Field.
Benintendi has upped his average to .273 and his OPS to .767, which is a good sign that he is finally coming around after a rough 2020 and start to his tenure in Kansas City in 2021. Benintendi isn’t alone of course. Carlos Santana has been on an absolute tear, as he is not only posting a .280 average and .904 OPS after Sunday’s game, but he has also had a tremendous impact on the rest of the Royals lineup and their plate patience as well, as I profiled last week.
That being said, the Royals offense has been feast or famine throughout the season, and that may not be the most formidable path to long-term success. Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier have had moments, including Dozier, who did hit a three-run home run today after making two costly errors in the third inning:
However, Soler and Dozier have not exactly boosted the Royals lineup like they once did in 2019. While Royals fans should probably wait it out for at least another month before making serious lineup changes involving the two, it’s going to be hard for Royals fans to continue to believe in the pair, especially when they are posting paltry .624 and .530 OPS numbers.
If Soler and Dozier can turn it around, that could help the Royals offense find more consistency, especially with guys like Salvador Perez in the lineup who combo big outings (like Saturday’s in which he hit a home run) with mediocre ones (0-4 today with two strikeouts). That is the reality with a free-swinger like Salvy. Furthermore, the end of the lineup has been decent thus far, but it’s obvious that Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez will provide more with their defense than their offense at the end of the day.
Soler and Dozier will be the key to whether this Royals lineup becomes great or simply slightly above average (which it is now). Hence, it will be interesting if they will be able to find some consistency during this upcoming home stand.
What should the Royals do with Brad Keller?
Keller continues to struggle on the mound, and right now, it doesn’t seem to be a fluke or just a flash in the pan. Through six starts and 22.1 IP, Keller is posting an 8.06 ER and 2.15 WHIP. Furthermore, Keller’s percentiles, according to Baseball Savant, aren’t impressive, as evidenced in the graphic below:
The issue primarily seems to be centered on command. Keller is showcasing decent heat on his fastball, as he ranks in the 71st percentile in terms of fastball velocity. Additionally, he also is doing a decent job in terms of limiting exit velocity on batted balls, as he ranks in the 63rd percentile in average exit velocity and 56th percentile in hard hit rate. But, he is pretty much below average across the board in every other valuable Statcast category, and is in the bottom of the league in terms of xwOBA, xERA, and xBA.
Thus, the concerns about Keller should be more heightened for the Royals as well as Royals fans.
Of course, the main question is this: what do the Royals do with Keller? Do they ride him in the rotation for a little bit longer? Or do they demote him to the bullpen and perhaps go with another starter or even an opener in an attempt to get Keller back on track?
Right now, it seems likely that the Royals will go with Keller just a little bit longer, even with Kris Bubic’s return to the big league club this weekend. The Royals have been getting good production from the rest of their rotation, so even though Keller hasn’t really contributed much thus far, it hasn’t been too much of a burden on the Royals pitching staff overall. He’s not been the “ace” that Royals fans expected him to be, but the Royals can give him some time to figure it out for at least another month. Some home starts in the Royals’ spacious grounds could perhaps give him the boost he needs after such a rough start.
That being said, if it’s June 1st and Keller is still posting similar ERA and WHIP numbers, well…then it wouldn’t be surprising to see a major change soon.
The Minor League season will be a month in at that point…and it’s possible that Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar may be ready for a call up by then, especially if they are tearing things up in Omaha.
Are the Twins going to hit their stride in May?
The Twins struggled in the month of April, as they finished the 9-15 in the month of April. However, the offense of the Twins has started to show some serious potential, especially with rookie Alex Kirilloff having a breakout in the Royals series. While Kirilloff isn’t posting a great average (.184) or OBP (.200), his power has been on full display, as he has four home runs and is posting a xwOBA of .532, which is a massive difference from his .284 wOBA (thus showing he has hit some bad luck to begin his big league career).
The Twins have already gotten great production from Nelson Cruz, as expected, but the breakout of Byron Buxton, who is hitting .408, has been much welcomed by Twins fans, especially after seeing him miss so much time due to injury the past few seasons. The Twins also haven’t gotten much production from Miguel Sano, who is currently on the IL, as well as outfielders Jake Cave (.171 average) and Max Kepler (.222 average). Thus, if things turn around for those three, then the Twins offense could get really scary, really quick, which was expected in the preseason.
The big issue for the Twins will be the pitching, which has been hit and miss. Jose Berrios has been good for the most part, and Michael Pineda and JA Happ have been solid in the middle of the rotation. But Matt Shoemaker and Kenta Maeda have been awful, and the bullpen hasn’t been great either, especially considering that they rank 25th in reliever ERA, and 24th in HR/9 rate, according to Fangraphs. While Shoemaker may be a wash at this point (it will be surprising to see him last much longer in the rotation), the fortunes of Maeda and the bullpen could make a difference in regard to the Twins going on a run in May.
The Royals can’t afford to overlook the Twins this month, especially since they will play them again at Target field during Memorial Day weekend. It is possible that the second Twins series at Target may be one that could either “make or break” the fortunes of both the Royals and/or Twins, depending on how the month goes for both clubs.
This upcoming home stand at the K will definitely shed some light in regard to how important that Twins series will be on Memorial Day weekend.
Let’s hope the Royals can continue to set the tone in the Central with successful series wins against the Indians and White Sox.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images