Three Things Royals Fans Can Take Away from the Opening Day Loss

This is a little late, but I didn’t have the most energy after a long day and night of celebrating this big moment, which occurred before the Royals’ Opening Day contest at Kauffman.

It was a beautiful day for baseball, and there definitely was a different energy at Kauffman compared to the past couple of Opening Day games I have been at. Unfortunately, it didn’t necessarily translate into a winning performance, as Twins starter Pablo Lopez and the Minnesota bullpen held the Royals lineup to zero runs and only two hits in a game that barely went over two and a half hours.

With that said, there are a few takeaways Royals fans may have after this game, in both good and concerning fashion. Let’s look at those takeaways, and what they could mean for the upcoming season.

Fans Need to Be Patient With the Young Hitters

Expectations are sky-high for this young group of Royals hitters after promising campaigns in 2022. And yet, it’s easy to forget that this Royals team ranked 23rd in wRC+ a season ago, according to Fangraphs.

There’s no question that Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Michael Massey will be important for this Royals squad in 2023 and beyond. However, the group ended up going 0-for-12, which also included a back-breaking bases-loaded double play from Melendez that involved Melendez not fully running it out on the play to first base.

On a positive note, the group of Royals hitters did draw four walks, including two from Witt. Considering Witt only had a 4.7 percent walk rate a season ago, to see him draw two walks is a good sign that he’s recognizing pitches better in year two. That could parlay into a stronger start in 2023 in comparison to 2022, when April was his worst month of play, according to Fangraphs Splits.

It’s also possible that the nerves of the Opening Day start, in front of the first sellout at Kauffman since 2018, also got to the young group of players. Remember, of that group, only Witt started on Opening Day last year.

Amir Garrett seemed to suggest as much on Twitter, though he appreciated the sellout crowd and mentioned that better days were ahead if the Royals fans continued to come out.

It’s easy to think that this young group will automatically be All-Stars and MVP candidates right off the bat. However, there will be ups and downs with Witt, MJ, Vinnie, and Massey and Royals fans need to brace for that in 2023 (though the highs will definitely outweigh the lows in the end).

The Bullpen Could Be the Legitimate Strength of This Group

I don’t want to take anything away from Zack Greinke, who once again proved why he was the Royals’ Opening Day starter despite being on the tail end of his career. Despite facing a Twins lineup with a lot of pop, he was able to allow only one two runs and six hits while striking out four and walking one in 5.1 innings of work.

On the other hand, while Greinke’s performance was commendable, the Royals’ bullpen may have slightly stolen the show, which is an encouraging sign from this group after a pretty down year in Cal Eldred’s final season as Royals pitching coach.

Here’s a look at how the Royals pitching staff as a whole fared, and notice how the collective group fared, especially Jose Cuas and Carlos Hernandez, two relievers who were initially on the bubble to make the Royals’ Opening Day roster.

Cuas was definitely the most impressive of the bunch, especially when one takes a look at his player breakdown from Thursday’s game.

Cuas’ slider was downright nasty, as he made hitters look silly on frequent occasions, including Max Kepler in this inning-ending strikeout in the top of the 8th.

Cuas was a bit of a surprise roster addition, especially since he didn’t particularly have a good Cactus League campaign (he posted a 7.70 ERA). That being said, a big reason he made the squad was that he was intent on adding shape to his slider this Spring, and it seemed like the Royals wanted to reward him for his hard work. It seems like that shape on the slide paid off in game one, as the 50 percent CSW rate on the pitch suggests. If his slider continues to offer movement like it did on March 30th, Cuas could become one of the Royals’ more dependable relievers this year.

As for Hernandez, his box score doesn’t look as eye-popping as Cuas’, but his fastball was absolutely electric, especially on a Stuff+ end, as Joel Penfield of One Royals Way pointed out.

Hernandez had a great Spring and WBC, and it seems like his confidence is riding high at this point. He definitely seems more comfortable in a bullpen role, and he could be a guy who could ascend to a setup role, especially once some relievers are likely traded by mid-season.

The only concerning outing was Coleman, who struggled with control this Spring, and did so again on Opening Day. While he didn’t allow a run, he also allowed a hit and walked two while striking out none. Furthermore, his player breakdown data didn’t exude optimism either.

The 18 percent overall CSW is rough in itself. However, to see a three MPH difference in four-seam fastball velocity is a cause for concern, and one has to wonder if Coleman is working through a mechanical issue or if something is lingering with his arm that’s deflating his velocity.

The bullpen should be a strength of this team this year, especially with more reserves in Omaha, who helped carry the Storm Chasers after a rough outing from Omaha starter Mike Mayers.

If Coleman continues to show the same velocity issues in future outings, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him the first one optioned to Omaha to work through those issues.

Kauffman is Going to Have A Different Vibe This Year

If there’s one thing that I have noticed in this leadup to Opening Day it is this: the Royals and Kauffman Stadium are going to be trying to attract a very different demographic this season, especially as they look to build momentum to get support for a downtown stadium.

That is especially true with the new “motto” for this year #WelcomeToTheCity and this hype video which seemed to showcase more “hipster” establishments like the 403 Club in KCK and Lucky Boys in the West Bottoms (both places my fiance and I patron on regular occasion).

In previous years, the Royals have been geared more toward older fans who grew up in that 70s and 80s hey-day and a more “family-friendly” environment. While those demographics will continue to draw season ticket holders and big crowds on the weekend, it doesn’t necessarily help during those weeknight games from Monday to Thursday.

One of the big reasons why MLB downtown stadiums draw well is because they attract those young professional fans or city college students during those Monday through Thursday night games. At a stadium like Kauffman, which is kind of out in the KC Bermuda Triangle of Kansas City, Raytown, and Independence, young professionals working in the downtown area or students going to UMKC, KU Med, or Rockhurst are less willing to drive out of the downtown area or college campus on those nights, especially without reliable public transit options.

That said, the Royals need to build that goodwill and collateral with fans now so that loyalty is built up by the time a downtown stadium opens. That’s why we see catchphrases like “Welcome to the City”, more college-themed nights, general admission ticket packages and the return of the “fountain pass”, and a special Opening Day “value menu” which would have been unheard of in seasons past.

Add this with a young roster and a more “future-focused” mindset as an org, and I think this Royals season at the K is going to feel very different from the past few years.

And for a millennial like myself, I’m more than open to it.


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