May has already been a difficult month for the Kansas City Royals. The Royals have lost four straight, and are currently 1-4 in the month of may after going 15-9 in the first month of the season. After being the story of baseball (or at least in the American League) for the first 30 days of the season, the Royals have fallen back to earth, especially during this home stand, as they have dropped the first three games of the series to the Cleveland Indians, and will be looking to avoid the sweep tomorrow afternoon before they begin their weekend series against the rival Chicago White Sox.
And it’s not just the losses that hurt, but how the losses have come in this series.
The Royals have held lead multiple times in this series, only to see those leads evaporate in the later innings. As Joel Goldberg mentions in the Tweet below, the Royals are not the only team that Cleveland has come back on this year, but it feels like the Indians just have had the Royals number time and time again this series, even when it seems like things are going the Royals’ way initially.
Because after all, if you would have told Royals fans “Hey, the Royals are going to tag Shane Bieber for nine hits and four runs”, well…I think Royals fans would feel good about their chances of a victory at Kauffman Stadium, especially with Brady Singer opposing Bieber on the mound. But unfortunately, not only did the bullpen implode again, but the umpiring became the story again in this contest (well…specifically Angel Hernandez became the story again in this contest):
I know that down the road, Royals fans will look at this video and laugh about it. But tonight’s not that night, and it’s difficult to watch this and not feel like the baseball Gods have been against the Royals so far this month.
That being said, I try to be a positive and optimistic baseball fan. I think for any Royals fan who has struck with this club since 2018 (which is around the time this blog started), you have to be to stay sane. There has been a lot of losing the past three years, and while losses like the last four have been hard to stomach, especially considering they have come at home at the K, overall things are still okay in the grand scheme of things. The Royals are still 16-13. They are still in the hunt in the AL Central. And the White Sox continue to be a mess, especially after losing Luis Robert for 12-16 weeks (and this is on top of losing Eloy Jimenez in Spring Training).
The Royals are still in the thick of the Central race, and there are some other positives to keep in mind, even in the midst of this current losing streak and tough start to the month of May.
Here are four positive developments going on that Royals fans should keep Royals fans hopeful that better days are ahead, and that all is not lost, even if it can feel that way after this brutal four-game stretch against division opponents (Cleveland and Minnesota).
Daniel Lynch is going to have an impact this season
I was lucky to be able to attend Daniel Lynch’s debut at Kauffman Stadium on Monday night, and Lynch was able to really excite the crowd, even though he only went 4.2 IP in the no-decision. Lynch did struggle a little bit with his control and command during the night, as he walked four batters and allowed four hits and three runs while only striking out three. Furthermore, his iffy control was also demonstrated in his pitch chart, especially on his two main pitches, courtesy of Baseball Savant:
As you can see, the fastball is way up out of the zone, and the slider is way outside to the left of the strike zone. However, this was his MLB debut, and chances are, his excitement and “hype” for his MLB debut probably got the best of him, especially when it came to locating his pitches. I will say, just being in the stands, it felt like Lynch got a better feel for his control as the game went on, and his stuff began to look really good in that third and fourth innings as well.
Furthermore, a promising sign for Lynch was his fastball velocity, as he was topping out at 97 MPH, according to Baseball Savant. Lynch was showing an impressive four-pitch mix, and his curve ball was earning some rave reviews, especially on this strikeout below against Josh Naylor, who has had the Royals’ number this series:
Lynch’s debut wasn’t perfect, but if people recall, neither was Yordano Ventura’s, who also debuted at the K against the Indians back in 2013 (which I had tickets to but missed due to grad school…my biggest regret). Expect Lynch to not only have a strong outing in his next start, but really have an impact on this Royals rotation in 2021.
Honestly, how Lynch progresses in the rotation could have a big effect on whether the Royals compete for a playoff spot or not this season.
The Royals will get a boost when Adalberto Mondesi returns
Nicky Lopez may have earned himself a spot on the roster after a strong April, but his last two games should remind Royals fans that he may not necessarily be an everyday player going forward.
After an 0-for-4 game with three strikeouts tonight, Lopez is currently hitting .215 with a .614 OPS. Also, Lopez’s defense hasn’t been that strong on an OAA (outs above average) basis either, as he currently ranks in the bottom third percentile in OAA, according to Baseball Savant (though early-season OAA numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt).
Thus, it’s safe to say that the Royals are looking forward to the return of Adalberto Mondesi to the starting lineup as well as the shortstop position.
Thankfully, Royals fans have been seeing some promising signs on Twitter lately. Here is a short video clip of Mondesi taking batting practice yesterday:
And here is what Dayton Moore said yesterday about Mondesi’s recovery and progression to getting ready for the 2021 season:
Mondesi has definitely been a frustrating player for Royals fans. After a solid end to the 2020 season, it seemed like Mondesi was ready to take the next step in 2021. Unfortunately, an oblique injury has sidelined him so far this season, and it is likely that Mondesi will need a rehab stint in the Minor Leagues before he makes his 2021 Royals debut. Thus, it could be until late May or even early June before Mondesi starts at shortstop this season in Kansas City, which is only salt in the wound for Royals fans who were hoping that this season would be his breakout campaign.
Now is Mondesi going to be a superstar? I am not sure. He strikes out a lot, doesn’t make a whole lot of consistent contact, and can be prone to some rough plays in the infield. But he certainly would be an upgrade over Lopez at shortstop, and he will add a power and speed element in the lineup that the Royals desperately need.
The Royals are 16-13 without Mondesi, who was identified as one of the keys to success in 2021 by the Royals coaching staff, front office brass, and most media members who follow the team.
Thus, this team could only get better once he returns to the lineup, especially fully healthy. Let’s just hope that return comes sooner rather than later, especially in the midst of this rough losing streak.
The Royals are showing a lot of promise early in the Minor Leagues
Minor League baseball is finally back after a year-long hiatus, and right now, Royals affiliates are making noise. In Omaha, Jackson Kowar made his debut, as he struck out nine hitters in 5.1 IP with the Storm Chasers.
Also in Omaha, outfielder Edward Olivares has been on a tear, as he has arguably been the Storm Chasers’ best offensive player thus far.
Olivares was demoted early in Spring Training, mostly due to his defensive recognition and route issues in Surprise. However, Olivares showed some promise in his big league debut in 2020 after coming to Kansas City from San Diego in the Trevor Rosenthal trade and seemed like an option in center field until the Royals acquired Michael A. Taylor in free agency.
If Olivares continues to rake Triple-A pitching, it will be hard for the Royals to ignore him, especially with Jorge Soler having to play so much right field due to the whole left out there due to the Kyle Isbel demotion.
While Kowar and Olivares have turned some heads in Omaha, things have also been promising in Double-A and the lower levels as well. In Double-A, Jonathan Bowlan, who pitched in Spring Training in Arizona, made his Northwest Arkansas debut, and he absolutely shoved in his first Minor League outing of the year:
Bowlan earned the win and in five innings of work, he allowed four hits and zero runs, which helped him earn the win in his first start with the Naturals this year. And in High-A Quad Cities, Asa Lacy also made his Minor League debut, though he certainly showed a lot more wildness than Bowlan.
In 2.1 IP, Lacy only allowed one hit, but he allowed five hits and four runs, which put his ERA at 15.43. However, Lacy started the game by striking out the side, and showed some good strikeout stuff, as evidenced in the Tweet below:
While Lacy went through his share of struggles in the second and third, Royals fans have to remember how disjointed his development was last year due to the lost College and Minor League season. Royals player development has taken it really slow when it comes to developing Lacy since drafting him fourth overall in 2020, and these kinds of growing pains are to be expected. I think Royals fans should look for a much better follow-up performance from Lacy, especially with this “pro debut” out of his system.
There are a lot of good stories going on in the Royals farm system, and I know I am overlooking some other stories, including Nick Pratto’s solid start in Northwest Arkansas, which included a home run in his Naturals debut:
Yes, things have been challenging to watch at the MLB level for Royals fans so far this May. But there has been a lot of promise so far in the Minors, even if the Minor League season is incredibly young. Hence, it will be interesting to see how the affiliates and prospects progress over the course of the 2021 season, and how this could impact not only the MLB club this year, but in 2022 as well.
Jake Brentz has been a feel-good (and effective) story out of the bullpen
The Royals bullpen has been “inconsistent” to say the least, especially during this Cleveland series. However, one pitcher who has been pretty good this season has been Jake Brentz, who has not only been the Royals’ best left-handed reliever out of the Royals bullpen (as well as only one), but also best reliever in general. Acquired by the Royals in August of 2019, Brentz is posting an ERA of 2.92 and K rate of 25.9 percent, according to Baseball Savant. Furthermore, Brentz has been adept in terms of limiting hard contact and generating whiffs, as evidenced by his percentile chart below:
Cave has been able to succeed with a plus-velocity fastball and a slider with some serious movement. Currently, Brentz is generating whiff rates of 25.5 percent and 39.3 percent on the fastball and slider, respectively. Here is an example of Brentz painting the corner against Jake Cave of the Twins on May 1st at Target Field:
At 97 MPH, Brentz is able to paint the pitch on the edge, something he has struggled to do over the course of his career. Furthermore, the left-hander out of Parkway South High School in the St. Louis area has also been able to be quite effective in commanding his slider, as evidenced by this strikeout of Jonathan Schoop in Detroit:
Brentz may be limited to a “LOOGY-plus” role in the bullpen this season, and it’s hard to imagine him getting any serious innings when it comes to high-leverage situations, mostly due to his checkered history of command. Furthermore, even in the midst of the Royals’ bullpen struggles lately, Mike Matheny just throwing Brentz into such situations without proper preparation could be a recipe for disaster, especially for a rookie like Brentz, whose Minor League pedigree is inconsistent, to put it nicely.
That being said, Royals fans need to appreciate what Brentz has done and how he has been a huge left-handed boost to the Royals bullpen in 2021, especially since the Royals didn’t have a whole lot of left-handed relief options going into Spring Training, outside of Richard Lovelady. Brentz has definitely made his case that he can not only handle a spot in the Royals bullpen, but be a valuable member who can pitch against both left and right-handed hitters, not easy to do for a left-handed reliever.
Let’s hope Brentz can continue this streak of effectiveness…
Because the Royals bullpen will certainly need it.
Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports