The Royals lost a brutal 1-0 game to cross-state rival St. Louis in a makeup game at Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon. As of May 2nd, the Royals are 7-14, which ties them for last in the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers, who also share a similar record.
It’s been easy to be “doom and gloom” about the Royals’ outlook for the remainder of the 2022 season. That is only amplified with Fangraphs’ Depth Chart projections expecting the Royals to finish 72-90 by season’s end, which would be a big disappointment after the Royals won 74 games a year ago.
As a passionate Royals fan and season ticket holder, I totally get it.
It has been an absolute chore to watch this Royals offense struggle to produce runs, especially with runners in scoring position. Furthermore, it doesn’t make things any easier when franchise stars such as Whit Merrifield (-0.3 fWAR) and Salvador Perez (0.1 fWAR) have gotten off to disappointing starts to boot.
While it is easy to board the “booing bandwagon” in Kansas City after a rough 21-game stretch to begin 2022, I am actually going to take an opposite approach in this post, even though I know I will get plenty of “negative” reactions in response.
Here are three reasons why Royals fans should still be optimistic about what could happen over the remaining 141 games this season.
The Roster Is Going To Look Different Pretty Soon
We’re already seeing some changes in the Royals roster compilation, especially on the hitting end, from Opening Day.
Granted, some of that fluctuation has been due to injury (i.e. Adalberto Mondesi and Cam Gallagher), but I think we’re going to see more young players and bats injected into this Royals lineup in the coming weeks and months.
Already, Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares have been getting more time in the starting lineup in the last week than they did prior to the Mondesi injury. While Isbel hasn’t done much thus far (.231 average; 55 wRC+), Olivares has been a breath of fresh air, as he is hitting .292 with a .745 OPS after Monday’s game.
If that wasn’t enough, the Royals also made a major move on Sunday, in lieu of Cam Gallagher’s injury:
While Carlos Santana has been a source of frustration for many Royals fans (which is understandable with his .159 average and .566 OPS), he is still generating good at-bats and getting on-base, as his BB rate and K rate rank in the 98th and 94th percentiles, respectively, according to Savant.
Santana also got two hits today against the Cardinals, and he’s been looking more comfortable at the plate over the past week. If he can get on a streak, that could fuel a possible trade pretty soon, which could open up a spot for Nick Pratto or Vinnie Pasquantino to make their MLB debut.
Pasquantino has been the better performer at the plate so far in Omaha, but a move will need to be made to clear a roster spot for him (though if the Royals trade Santana, Pasquantino being added to the 40-man will be the obvious move).
On a pitching end, Jonathan Heasley has been dealing in Omaha so far this year, as he is posting a 3.63 ERA and 5.75 K/BB ratio in five starts and 22.1 innings pitched. Heasley was serviceable, though not great, in his MLB debut last year. That being said, he’s been doing a much better job of generating swings and misses against Triple-A hitters this year, and it will be interesting to see if he can transition that to the big league club in 2022.
With Carlos Hernandez and Kris Bubic struggling, and Brady Singer working on some things in Omaha himself, Heasley could make his 2022 debut awful soon. That pitching addition could also rejuvenate the end of the Royals rotation for the remainder of this season (the front has been solid with Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, and Daniel Lynch).
It’s easy to be pessimistic about this roster now. But in a month or maybe even a few weeks, it will look a lot different (and younger), which should get Royals fans excited about the future, especially beyond 2022.
Greinke and Benintendi Have Been Refreshing
There was a lot of concern about Greinke and Benintendi going into 2022 for similar and different reasons.
The Royals inked Greinke to a one-year deal this offseason, which generated some fanfare here in Kansas City initially. However, after having back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021 with an ERA over four, many Royals fans wondered if Greinke’s best days were behind him, and the signing was more for nostalgia and little else.
With the exception of Keller, no Royals starter has been as effective as Greinke, even if it has been a bit different style than the Greinke of old.
Going into Monday’s game, Greinke was posting a career-low K rate of 6.9 percent, which has been some cause for concern. And yet, his ERA is 2.57 after today six-inning outing, and he did generate an overall CSW rate of 26 percent against Cardinals hitters, despite a whiff rate that ranks in the bottom 2nd percentile, according to Baseball Savant.
Greinke may not have a plus fastball anymore, or be the “swing and miss” generator that he once was. But he throws strikes and pinpoints his pitches consistently and effectively. That has definitely had an effect on the Royals’ starting pitching staff, which ranks 14th in BB/9 (last year they were near the bottom).
Of course, the 38-year-old has benefited from the Royals’ defense, as evidenced by this spectacular Michael A. Taylor play today:
Nonetheless, Greinke throws strikes consistently, and it’ll be interesting to see if his velocity plays up more, especially once he gets more settled into the season. That could help boost his strikeout numbers, which will make him an even more valuable starting pitcher for the Royals over the course of the season.
As for Benintendi, there was a lot of murmur that he wasn’t much better than Kyle Isbel going into this season. With Benintendi entering his last year of arbitration, his future in Kansas City seemed to be in doubt this offseason. Would the Royals somehow work out an extension with him? Or would they let him walk in free agency (or possibly be a trade candidate at the deadline)?
Benny has silenced those “Isbel Copy” comps and gotten off to a great start, especially at the plate.
He has been the Royals’ most productive and consistent hitter this season, as evidenced by his .365 batting average and .881 OPS. The power hasn’t really been there, which is demonstrated by a barrel rate that ranks in the 27th percentile, and average exit velocity that ranks in the 48th percentile, according to Savant. However, he has cut down on the K’s (12.7 percent K rate), and he puts the ball in play, which is something much-needed for this Royals lineup.
In fact, Benintendi has been exactly the kind of line-drive hitter that Dayton Moore and Royals fans envisioned him to be when they acquired him prior to the start of the 2021 season.
How the Royals fare this month and next could determine Benny’s future in Kansas City.
As for now, let’s simply enjoy his breakout while we can.
The Rest of the Central Division Is Open
The Royals are tied with the Tigers for the worst-record in the AL Central. As of now, they are better than only the Cincinnati Reds (3-19), as the Washington Nationals have the same winning percentage as Kansas City and Detroit.
And yet, the Royals and Tigers are just six games back in the Central division. In fact, only the Minnesota Twins have a record better than .500.
Remember Royals fans: this was a Twins team that lost two of three at Kauffman Stadium already this April, and could have easily gotten swept.
It will not be hard for the Royals to make a run in the Central, especially if they can figure out their offensive woes.
The Twins are finally fully healthy, but they already have had injury issues with key players such as Byron Buxton, Sonny Gray, and Max Kepler. The White Sox will be without Eloy Jimenez for an extended time, and they already have had to deal with various injury issues with Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Lance Lynn, and Garret Crochet, just to name a few.
As for the Tigers? They are showing that a few big signings can generate some excitement (and some preseason breakout buzz), but can’t mask all the organization’s problems.
The Royals may be tied for last in the division right now, but a good month in May could change this club’s fortunes awful quickly. This isn’t a situation like Baltimore or Texas where they are looking up at four teams clearly head and shoulders above them in the division. All four other Central teams are flawed and have their share of strengths, but some glaring issues as well that make them vulnerable.
A good run against the Tigers, Twins, White Sox, or Guardians could not only get the Royals back on the winning end of things, but could also help turn around Royals fans’ morale, especially once the hotter weather comes to Kansas City in June.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA Today