The Kansas City Royals notched their 50th win of the year on Monday afternoon, as they won a makeup game from April against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium by the score of 6-4.
It was a weird game for a variety of reasons.
First off, it was only a one-game series with the White Sox, as the Royals go on to play a two-game slate against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the White Sox travel to Baltimore for a series against the Orioles. Furthermore, it was also the lowest-attended game of the year (and in quite some time according to Jesse Newell of the KC Star), which is not a surprise considering it was on a Monday afternoon, and school had already started on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the State Line.
And the game was also weird in the sense that the winning Royals run did not come on a dramatic hit, but rather a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth. The walk was drawn by Drew Waters, the former Atlanta top prospect, who was making his Royals and MLB Debut.
On one end, Royals fans can be happy that they’re keeping pace ahead of the last-place Detroit Tigers in the AL Central standings. That said, the Royals, are coming off a brutal road trip to Minnesota and Tampa Bay that saw them get swept by the Twins and lose three out of four to the Rays (remember, the Royals WON three out of four against the Rays at Kauffman in July).
Let’s just say, after such a brutal stretch of baseball, and with Kansas City Chiefs football season upon the city, Royals fans’ spirits are pretty low, to say the least (as Newell, who was filling in for Star Royals beat writer Lynn Worthy, found out today).
It didn’t seem that long ago that the Royals were a fun team to watch who seemed to be coming together in the clubhouse and on the field after the August 2nd Trade Deadline.
Unfortunately, it seems like the Royals have circled back to those frustrating times when there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of hope on the horizon. That was further amplified last week by Baseball America ranking the Royals with the worst farm system in baseball currently.
So after a rough stretch of Royals baseball, where are Royals fans at? And should Kansas City have any hope for this Royals baseball franchise in the near future?
Or is this organization due for a major shakeup soon (and not just in one or two positions)?
Why the Road Trip Hurt So Much.
To be honest, the Royals losing consecutive series on the road to the Twins and Rays isn’t the worst thing in the world.
After all, the Twins and Rays are entrenched in the playoff hunt, and both are starting to see their rosters reach full health again. At this time of the year, where every game pretty much counts for a Wild Card contender, it makes sense that the Twins and Rays took care of business in their respective home parks against a Royals roster that is 20+ games under .500.
However, it was how the Royals lost that proved to be frustrating for Royals fans.
The offense, which showed so much promise in the most recent homestand, was completely lifeless last week on the road. In fact, according to Shaun Newkirk, formerly of Royals Review, it was one of the worst offensive stretches of baseball in Royals history, which says something considering the Royals’ history of futility after 1994.
It’s one thing for the Royals pitching staff to totally implode (and it did at times during the road trip).
The Royals starting pitching and bullpen have been an inconsistent mess all season, and that is evident with them having the 5th worst staff ERA in baseball. Unfortunately, with Cal Eldred leading the helm as pitching coach, it’s hard to get too excited about the staff, even with the young starters (Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic) showing promise in the second half (though Lynch and Bubic haven’t looked great recently).
The offense though was to be the saving grace of this young Royals group.
Bobby Witt, Jr. and MJ Melendez have carried the top of the lineup for what feels like months now. Vinnie Pasquantino earned player of the week not too long ago. Michael Massey is looking like he will be the Royals starting second baseman on Opening Day in 2023. And while Nick Pratto, Kyle Isbel, and Nate Eaton have had their ups and downs, the three have provided their share of exciting moments, especially during that Royals home stand.
And yet, despite those positives, the young group pretty much floundered recently, and that is deflating for a Royals fanbase that has tried to find the silver lining with this disappointing group all season long.
Are these young Royals hitters the exciting group they showcased during the recent homestand that was recapturing the attention and hearts of Kansas City sports fans? Or are they not much better than the group led by Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, and Carlos Santana in April and May?
The next month-and-a-half of Royals baseball could be very telling, and not just for 2023, but in 2024 and beyond as well.
What Are the Royals Doing With This Roster?
For today’s one-game series against the White Sox, the Royals called up outfielder Waters from Omaha, who may be the best prospect Kansas City acquired around the Trade Deadline. Waters didn’t get a hit, but he drew a walk and didn’t look overwhelmed at the plate, which is a good sign in his Major League debut.
On the other hand, the unfortunate result of calling up Waters was optioning Eaton, who’s showcased a stellar glove in the outfield, back to Omaha.
It’s not that optioning Eaton back to Omaha is necessarily a bad thing.
Eaton has been struggling since hitting a home run in his Major League debut against the Toronto Blue Jays during the Royals’ “vaccine-gate” debacle. In 51 plate appearances, Eaton is only slashing .182/.255/.318 with a wRC+ of 58 and a BB/K ratio of 0.24 (highlighted by a 33.3 percent K rate). There’s no question that the VMI product has the tools to be a solid utility guy at the MLB level (and maybe more). That being said, he is in dire need of some refinement with Drew Saylor and the Royals Player Development Team in Triple-A.
Rather, it’s all the moves the Royals “aren’t” making that is frustrating this Royals fanbase to no end.
Ryan O’Hearn continues to take a roster spot, even though his start today was only the second game since July 28th where he’s had two or more plate appearances in a single game.
The Royals continue to take Pratto’s bat out of the lineup against lefties, especially in high-pressure situations. Granted, Pratto hasn’t been doing much lately to prove Mike Matheny otherwise, as Pratto is 0-for-16 in his last seven games, which includes zero walks and 10 strikeouts. Nonetheless, it is Pratto who is supposed to be the future of this Royals franchise in the middle of the lineup, not Brent Rooker, who’s been underwhelming since arriving to Kansas City from the Padres organization.
Michael A. Taylor has also fallen off a cliff at the plate since the Trade Deadline, and his defense has left a little to be desired in comparison to his Gold Glove campaign a year ago. Hence, Royals fans are wondering if Dayton Moore’s stubbornness to move on from players with years of team control may have bitten the Royals in the butt once again.
And lastly, the Royals continue to give at-bats to Hunter Dozier (though not every day anymore, thank God), even though Dozier has been one of the Royals’ coldest hitters after the All-Star break.
Here’s a look at his pre and post-All-Star break splits, via Baseball Savant:
It doesn’t feel like Moore, JJ Picollo, and Matheny have much of a plan with this group of hitters. And as a result, they seem to be piecing things together each and every game, which is not only adding losses to their record this season but seems to be hurting the confidence of their young players long-term as well.
Realistic Royals fans can live with the short-term losses. At this point, a better chance at a higher draft pick in the lottery wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially with a rebuilding club that needs to add more “high-end” talent to their farm system.
But sacrificing the future in pursuit of wins during a lost season in August?
That becomes tougher to stomach.
Is Major Organizational Change Needed in Kansas City?
Things aren’t great with this Royals fanbase, especially online. It’s gotten so bad that even the more “optimistic” Royals fans are starting to vent their frustration and doubts about this organization beyond the 2022 season, as Jacob Milham did on his latest episode of the Royals Rundown.
In many ways, change needs to happen with this Royals organization.
The Royals are going to win significantly fewer games than they did in 2021, though who knows how much fewer as of August 22nd. The Royals could go on a good stretch in September and maybe win 65-70 wins, should things break right. Then again, this team could also lose 100+, much like they did in 2018 and 2019.
It’s really anyone’s guess, especially after the past couple of weeks of “Jekyll and Hyde” Royals baseball.
Granted, this is a young team, and those growing pains are to be expected with a roster this young, especially on the offensive end. There were too many Royals fans back in May who were thinking that calling up young guys would automatically mean more wins.
Royals fans are learning that is often not the case for teams that go that route, especially initially.
The big question for this Royals team long-term though is who can they depend on going forward? And not just on the hitting end, but pitching end as well.
Right now, Royals fans can probably count on Bobby, MJ, Vinnie, and Brady Singer.
Other than those four though, it’s a lot of wild cards and “what if’s.” That is not good for a team that has “graduated” all of its top prospects from the farm system to the Major League level.
And fair or not, that’s an indictment on the job Moore, Picollo, and even Matheny have done the past few seasons in Kansas City.
Which unfortunately merits some kind of change from owner John Sherman.
Now, what does that change look like?
That’s harder to say or even imagine from a Royals fan’s perspective.
On one end, a clean sweep sounds good on paper. But, ask the Pirates how well a clean sweep has gone. Or even the Angels, who have failed to turn things around with both a new GM and new manager in the past couple of seasons, despite having two of the best players in the game.
While clean sweeps of an organization sound good in theory, it can also create a vicious cycle for bottom-dwelling organizations. They consistently find themselves in that “rebuilding” mode where “prospects” are always valued more than players at the Major League level (Baltimore can contest, though it looks like they’re finally coming out of the wilderness).
The Royals could part ways with some of the major “figureheads” much like the Tigers (Al Avila) and Rangers (Jon Daniels) have done with their respective organizational changes. Picollo has shown a propensity to be much different from Moore when it comes to being “transactional”. At the end of the day though, it seems like Moore has the “final call” on any Royals move, and that limits Picollo’s impact.
Could Picollo be the front office executive this franchise needs if Moore isn’t around to handcuff him?
And could Matheny be a better manager with a better pitching coach (and pitcher development staff in the Minors) in place? We have seen what he can do when he has the right hitting coach and team established at the Major League level, even if it has been an up-and-down journey in that category this season.
Those solutions feel more realistic, but again, can Sherman make the move? Can he break that chain of “loyalty” that has colored this Royals organization since 2015 in both good and bad ways?
Whatever he decides, Sherman most likely will make a move, mostly to appease a fanbase that seems more jaded than ever before in this “Rebuild 2.0” era (i.e. 2018 to present).
How many organizational moves Sherman makes though is yet to be determined…
And heavily depends on how this Royals team finishes the 2022 season.
Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel | AP