The Kansas City Royals are 44-65 after Sunday’s 13-5 series finale against the Boston Red Sox. Even though the playoffs went out the window for this squad months ago, the August Trade Deadline produced a major shakeup on this Royals roster that resulted from Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, and Cam Gallagher getting traded away.
In their place, the Royals have begun the youth movement in Kansas City, and so far the results have been promising, especially if this past Red Sox series at Kauffman Stadium is any indication.
Even though the Red Sox are a team competing for an AL Wild Card spot, the Royals looked like the better team over the four-game slate.
The Royals won three of four games against Boston. This included not only their eight-run beatdown of the Red Sox on Sunday, but a dramatic win in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a walk-off home by rookie first baseman Nick Pratto on Saturday night.
And the Royals are producing these kinds of results with a squad not led by aging veterans, which was the case at the beginning of the year in April and May. Rather, this Royals lineup (and starting pitching staff) has been boosted by rookies of all sorts and “star” levels.
MJ Melendez and Bobby Witt, Jr. have continued to be forces for the Royals at the top of the batting order over the past couple of months. In addition, Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, and Nate Eaton have also brought a jolt of offensive, defensive, and baserunning energy to this Royals squad.
Furthermore, the young group has also helped produced runs (and ultimately wins). Royals rookies contributed to 12 RBI in Sunday’s win, with Melendez producing half of those RBI, leading to him earning “Player of the Game” honors with Joel Goldberg.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Royals pitching staff has also thrived, though it has gone a bit under-the-radar lately (mostly due to the disdain among Royals fans for pitching coach Cal Eldred).
Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, and Daniel Lynch have produced effective and solid starts after the All-Star break and give Royals fans hope that this Royals rotation can produce not just in 2022, but beyond as well. Granted, it’s been nice to see Brad Keller and Zack Greinke have respectable (though up-and-down) seasons. But, the growth of the Royals’ young staff is key to the future of this organization, and the gains that Bubic, Singer, and Lynch have showed recently is a good sign that the Royals could be set up well pitching-wise in 2023.
(Granted, the growth hasn’t improved as dramatically as the hitting, but it’s been better than most Royals fans think, as Alex of Royals Farm Report points out.)
There’s a lot to be excited about as a Royals fan, even with this club 21 games under .500, which sounds worse than it is (there still are a lot of teams MUCH worse than the Royals record-wise).
That being said, this upcoming four-game series against the White Sox will be a good test for this young group, not just in the present, but in the long term as well.
I am not sure if the Royals and White Sox have a rivalry (it makes sense geographically and history-wise, but the games never have that kind of edge). But there is no question that the White Sox and Royals have been kindred spirits this year, as I have pointed out on Twitter this season.
The White Sox and Royals fanbases both came into this year with heightened expectations. The Royals were hoping to improve upon their 74-88 record and maybe hover around the 80-win or higher mark, which would be their best record since 2017. The White Sox on the other hand were looking to take the next step and perhaps win an AL Pennant, which they have failed to do since winning the World Series in 2005.
Unfortunately for both teams, the front office and field managers have disappointed so greatly that it’s been a regular occurrence on Twitter to see fanbases of both squads call for the firings of their general managers, managers or both. To be honest, it’s hard to say who’s been worse, just based on social media outrage: Rick Hahn and Tony La Russa of the White Sox? Or Dayton Moore/JJ Picollo and Mike Matheny of the Royals?
Unlike the Royal, the White Sox have a core of talent that aren’t quite rookies, but aren’t past-their-prime veterans.
If one looks at the top of their lineup, it’s easy to see why the White Sox not only won the division handedly in 2021, but were the main favorites to repeat in 2022. Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Jose Abreu, and Andrew Vaughn are all producing at the plate (though in waves). Additionally, though it’s been a down season for Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal (injuries haven’t helped), they are players who will be key for Chicago if they want to make a run for a Wild Card spot over the next couple of months.
The pitching has also been a similar situation to the lineup, as Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech have showed tremendous potential and effectiveness in the rotation, but they have been hurt with down seasons by Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito, who carried the rotation last season. And while the bullpen looks good on paper with Liam Hendriks and Kendall Graveman (as well as new acquisition Jake Diekman), they only rank 15th in reliever ERA, which is exactly middle-of-the pack.
The White Sox are still in the thick of the Central race at 55-53 as of Sunday. A big series win in Kansas City could be the launching point that this squad needs to surpass Minnesota and Cleveland, who the White Sox trail by two and one game, respectively.
The Royals aren’t going to sneak up on Chicago like they did with Boston.
Going into the last series, this Red Sox team was reeling due to some questionable trade decisions at the August deadline (i.e. Christian Vazquez) and they probably looked at the trades of Benny and Whit and figured this Royals team was going to just “pack it in” (even some Red Sox beat writers though the Royals would be a cake walk for the Red Sox).
The White Sox on the other hand are coming off a recent home series in Chicago where they took two out of three against the Royals. In addition, Chicago knows the stakes in the AL Central: in order to make ground in the division, they will need to beat teams in the division, after all.
And that’s what makes this series a good test for this young Royals group.
The Royals have struggled to find consistency from series to series, especially in the second half.
After the Royals took two of three from the Rays at home, they ended up losing two out of three to a Mike Trout-less Angels team at Kauffman to finish the homestand. Then, they proceeded to lose three out of four to the Yankees in the Bronx, and two out of three on the South Side. That not only explains their 65 losses, but the up and down mood swings of this fanbase, which grows frustrated by this team not capitalizing on positive momentum.
Granted, this is a young Royals team that has gotten a lot younger since Opening Day. Growing pains are to be expected.
That being said, growth is to be expected as well. Lose consecutive series to the Angels, Yankees, and White Sox? Okay, that flies the first time. But losing another series to the White Sox? Especially with a weekend visit from the red-hot Dodgers looming?
Well…slumping twice in a row is not just bad for this fanbase, but this clubhouse as well.
Because this team is looking like a lot of fun right now, and not just with their play on the field, but in the dugout as well, as evidenced by Nicky Lopez and Vinnie Pasquantino’s antics today.
The Royals have a chance to make a statement in this four-game series against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. They have a chance to continue the positive vibes and show the South Siders, and the division as a whole, that they will be a force to be reckoned with in not just August and September, but in 2023 as well.
But this series can also turn the positive vibes upside down, especially with a brutal slate coming up that also includes upcoming games with Minnesota and Tampa Bay on the road.
Let’s hope this Royals young group steps up to the challenge against Chicago in this final series of this homestand, much like they did in this past weekend series against Boston.
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