After getting blown out on Saturday evening, the Kansas City Royals bounced back to win 5-3 in the series finale against the Minnesota Twins, which not only earned them a series win, but a winning record over the seven-game road trip which took place in Minneapolis and Baltimore.
The Royals go into the off-day on Monday 65-78, 17 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox, who earned a dramatic victory against the Boston Red Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon, thanks to a Leury Garcia walk-off home run.
Of course, the Royals are clearly out of the AL Central and playoff race in general (which has been the case for a few months now). That being said, what can Royals fans take away from this most recent road trip, especially as they begin a tough home stand at Kauffman Stadium over the next week where they will take on the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, two teams vying for a spot in the AL Wild Card race?
Here are three takeaways on the Royals from their most recent seven-game stint against the Orioles and Twins, respectively, and what Royals fans can expect from this club as they begin to wrap up their season over the next few weeks.
The rollercoaster that is Adalberto Mondesi
Mondesi has played in nine games since returning off the IL on September 1st. Since then, it hasn’t necessarily been all great. Mondesi has swung and missed a whole lot this month, as he has struck out 14 times in 34 plate appearances while only walking once. His OPS during the month of September is .526, which has dropped his overall OPS to .889 (remember, it was 1.212 before he went down again in June). Mondesi has particularly struggled on pitches down in the strike zone, with this strikeout against the Orioles’ John Means being a prime example:
Now, if the Royals were still depending on Mondesi to be the “future” of this franchise, this stretch would be concerning. However, at this point, the Royals just need Mondesi on the field in some way, shape, or form. With his skill set and tools, Mondesi will make big contributions as long as he’s healthy and in the lineup, even if those contributions may come on an inconsistent basis (which has been the case this September).
Case in point, with the Royals lineup struggling to put together quality at-bats against the Twins’ Bailey Ober, Mondesi absolutely crushed a home run from the left side of the plate that helped give the Royals the lead in the top of the second inning:
The speed and power potential of Mondesi is so tantalizing for the Royals and Royals fans. Yes, Mondesi still strikes out a whole lot (36.8 percent strikeout rate), and he doesn’t walk a whole lot either (2.9 percent). That should probably make the Royals weary about a long-term extension, which may be looming in Dayton Moore’s head, especially with Mondesi about to be a free agent after 2023. That being said, Mondesi is worth keeping in the Royals lineup for now, and it will be interesting to see if he can finish the year strong and work to get stronger in the offseason, so he can stay healthy for 2022.
The future of this Royals team is Bobby Witt, Jr.. That much cannot be doubted. But if Mondesi can be a super utility player who can play some middle infield, play some third base, get some at-bats in the designated hitter spot, and perhaps play in the outfield every now and then? Well…this Royals team could evolve into a pretty dangerous offensive squad in 2022 and maybe beyond, if Moore deems that Mondesi is worth an extension this offseason.
Kyle Isbel gets a second chance with the Royals
In a surprise move, the Royals called up Kyle Isbel from Omaha due to a family emergency situation with Michael A. Taylor. Isbel got the start in center field, and in a tie game in the 8th inning, the 24-year-old Opening Day starting right fielder came up with a huge hit, which ended up giving the Royals the lead for good:
Isbel didn’t necessarily have a “bad” stint with the Royals in the beginning of the year, but it was obvious that he was overwhelmed by Major League pitching. He struck out 41.7 percent of the time and only walked 5.6 percent of the time, according to Baseball Savant. Thus, it’s not surprising that the Royals sent Isbel down, with the hope that he could work on his batting eye and plate discipline in Omaha, and then perhaps get a call back up to Kansas City later in the Summer.
Unfortunately, Isbel got off to a slow start in Omaha, which explains why he didn’t get a call back up to the Royals until today. However, even though Isbel struggled in his first couple of months with the Storm Chasers, he’s been on a tear the last couple of months, and with an open spot available in the outfield, it made sense why the Royals tabbed Isbel to fill in Taylor’s vacant spot in center field.
It will be interesting to see if Moore will keep Isbel up for the remainder of the MLB season. While Taylor is on leave, he’s not on the IL, which means that he won’t be away from the Royals for long. And considering Taylor’s impact on the Royals this year, especially defensively, he most likely will return to the starting lineup when he come back from leave.
That puts Isbel in a tough spot. Do the Royals send him back to Omaha, especially as they prepare for a playoff run in Triple-A? Or do they demote someone else, and let Isbel get more at-bats in Kansas City?
While I know Moore likes to see prospects compete for Minor League titles, Isbel deserves a second chance in Kansas City. He also deserves to get some looks in the outfield in order for the Royals to determine if he can be part of the Royals’ long-term plans. Right now, Ryan O’Hearn, who has spent some time in right field this season, has cooled off after a hot start, as he is posting a .634 OPS and .269 wOBA in 234 plate appearances this season, according to Savant. Considering O’Hearn’s defensive limitations, and the fact that he’s 28-years-old, I am not sure if the Royals should be investing more at-bats in a guy who may not be on this roster in 2022. I would rather see the Royals give innings and at-bats to Edward Olivares and Isbel, and honestly, a platoon of Isbel and Olivares in right wouldn’t be a bad way to finish the 2021 Royals season.
We will see what Moore does when Taylor is ready to come back. That being said, Isbel deserves an extended look, and hopefully, Moore makes the right decision when it comes to keeping Isbel on the Kansas City roster for the remainder of the season.
The Royals young pitchers went through some growing pains
The young Royals starters, specifically Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Brady Singer didn’t have disastrous outings during this road trip. They still gutted out innings on the mound, even if it wasn’t pretty at times, which says something to their maturation process over this past year. However, they definitely experienced some growing pains against two sub-par teams on the road, which is part of the process of making the adjustment to Major League competition.
On September 7th, Kowar went six innings and struck out seven, and also generated some great swing and miss stats, as evidenced from his player breakdown via Savant:
An overall CSW rate of 34 percent is impressive, especially for a pitcher like Kowar who was struggling to throw strikes in his first go-around in Kansas City. However, Kowar did make some mistakes in the zone, which resulted in six runs on five hits and three walks.
Here’s an example of Kowar hanging his changeup too high in the strike zone to the Orioles’ DJ Stewart, who drives it for a home run:
Lynch and Singer also struggled with the long ball in Minnesota as well. Lynch fared a little better than Singer in the Twin Cities, as he went six innings and struck out four batters while walking none in his outing on Friday night. However, he gave up four runs on seven hits, which included two home runs.
Here’s the Twins’ Josh Donaldson taking Lynch yard at Target Field:
Thankfully for the Royals, Lynch was good enough to keep them in the game, and the Royals ended up winning that game. Singer was not so lucky, as he gave up FIVE home runs in 4.2 innings of work on Saturday in the Royals’ 9-2 loss. Prior to Saturday’s game, he had only given up nine home runs in 116 IP in 2021. Thus, this home run barrage seemed more like an aberration rather than a sign of things to come, especially since Singer ranks in the 84th percentile when it comes to barrel rate, according to Savant.
That being said, Singer is going to have to command his pitches better, especially his slider, which only generated a CSW of 26 percent on Saturday. Here’s Singer in the fourth inning hanging his slider to Max Kepler, who crushes it for an easy home run, despite Singer being ahead in the count:
Of course, Singer would need to worry less about immaculate command on his sinker and slider if he can develop his changeup, but at this point in the year, Royals fans aren’t going to see much of the changeup in his outings (he only threw it 5 percent of the time against Minnesota). Hopefully, the Royals pitching staff will make a concerned effort this offseason and next Spring to get him to not only throw the changeup more, but throw it with more confidence and effectiveness, which he hasn’t really done in 2021.
Singer does possess swing and miss potential on the mound, and he demonstrated that on Saturday by striking out seven batters in his start against the Twins. But his command has gone through some wild highs and lows this year, and this most recent outing against the Twins was a prime example of Singer’s command just not clicking for him.
He will need to harness that command, especially on his slider, down the stretch if he wants to avoid another blow up in his final outings of the 2021 season.
And Singer can’t afford any more blowups like Saturday.
Because honestly, a poor finish to the year could jeopardize Singer’s status in the Royals rotation in 2022, especially considering the Royals’ starting pitching logjam at the moment.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images