How Bad Can It Get for the Royals (And Royals Fans) in 2023?

Many who follow this blog know, I am an optimistic Royals fan.

Perhaps more on the “too-optimistic” end if anything.

Last year, I thought the Royals could’ve been a 77-80 win team with the proper breaks. Unfortunately, ended up winning only 65 games, and Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny were shown their way out in Kansas City as a result.

This offseason, I remained optimistic that they could get back to that semi-respectable level of 70+ wins in 2023.

I felt that the new, analytics-heavy coaching staff led by Matt Quatraro would be able to tap into the pitching talent on the 40-man roster. I thought JJ Picollo would bring a fresh perspective that was missing from the Dayton Moore-led regime, and not just at the Major League level, but throughout the Minor League system as well.

I went to the Royals Rally in January and bought into the hype that Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, and Vinnie Pasquantino would lead this team into more respectability in 2023, even if it meant another losing season in Kansas City. The “Welcome to the City” campaign resonated with me, especially someone who lives in KCK, not too far from many of the establishments profiled in the Royals’ media campaign.

Again, I tend to be an optimistic Royals fan, and I still remain optimistic about this squad, even after they sit at 4-15 for the year, and coming off six straight losses in this recent homestand.

The problem is that I just don’t know how “optimistic” I can be, or what I need to be optimistic about, at least in the short term this season.

A Deflating Start to the Royals’ 2023 Season

It’s hard to find a whole lot of positives about this start to the 2023 season, and that’s saying something considering how lackluster the 2022 season was for the Royals.

Through 19 games in 2022, the Royals were 7-12 and ended up losing their next two games to fall to 7-14 before their next win. Optimism was low around the 19-game point in 2022, but things didn’t really hit the fan until a brutal loss at home in late May against the Twins, which I was “lucky” enough to be in attendance for. The late-inning loss dropped the Royals to 14-26 for the year, and it seemed at that point, it was a “lost” year, another cog in the Royals’ perennial “rebuilding” machine.

That game on May 23rd felt like a rock bottom for the Royals of sorts, and that was at the 40-game mark of the year, roughly two months into the season.

Unfortunately, it feels very much like Royals fans are at the same level of dismay in 2023. The main difference though is that we are at the 19-game mark, and barely halfway through the first month of the MLB season.

That is not a great state to be as a franchise, especially for a team that is trying to gain any kind of momentum to recapture Kansas City’s interest in baseball after seven straight losing seasons. (I am not going to even mention the Downtown Stadium proposal as those arguments often go down a ridiculous spiral.)

However, it is hard to think anything differently as a Royals fan, and I felt that especially on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium after Tuesday night’s 12-2 loss.

There was a different vibe on Tuesday night from the previous four games I attended this year.

Even though it was the first dollar dog and “Bark at the Park” night of the year, there was a sense of deflation already amidst the Kauffman crowd. It was a deflation one would typically see perhaps in August or September, when the postseason was a cemented “non-possibility”, and everyone in Kansas City is already in “Chiefs Mode”.

Josh Vernier of 610 AM Radio in the Craft and Draft had a more “subdued” demeanor. My usher in our STM ticket section had hinted that games in our section during the homestand had really lacked fans and energy. And of course, there were a lot of empty seats at the K, which has become a far too common sight, unless of course it’s filled with opposing fans of a more “popular” team (which was the case during the Atlanta Braves series).

It’s kind of sad because the Royals didn’t play bad for five innings.

Bobby Witt, Jr. hit a triple and scored a run on an MJ Melendez triple. Brad Keller didn’t have his best stuff or control, but he ground through four innings and kept the Royals in the game. Franmil Reyes was starting to look more comfortable at the plate after a rough opening homestand. And Jose Cuas provided a solid inning of work out of the pen to keep the Royals within one run heading into the sixth.

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off in the fifth, highlighted by five straight hits off fireballer Carlos Hernandez, capitalized by a home run by “Royals Killer” Marcus Semien.

At that point, it didn’t matter that the Rangers scored four more runs for a 10-run win. The damage was done and there was no way the Royals were coming back, especially not on a Tuesday night in April with a young squad that just seems to be reeling uncontrollably under a first-year manager.

The same story pretty much proved to be true in Wednesday’s 12-3 loss.

Brady Singer didn’t have his best stuff; Witt stood out with a home run; Matt Duffy got them within two with a big RBI hit; and then the wheels came off for Taylor Clarke, as he allowed seven runs in the 7th inning which effectively put the game out of reach for the Royals.

Losing in absolutely deflating fashion has almost become routine as of late. And the stats don’t provide much hope that anything will change soon either.

The Royals rank 30th in average, OBP, and OPS and also rank 29th in runs scored and 27th in home runs as an offense. On the bullpen end of things, they rank 29th in ERA, 28th in H/9, HR/9, and WHIP, and 26th in BB/9 allowed.

The only bright spot has been the starting pitching, as they rank 14th in ERA, 9th in WHIP, and 7 in BB/9 allowed, though those numbers could go up after Singer’s ho-hum outing against the Rangers.

When Royals fans look at numbers like that, it’s hard to see the Royals improving much upon their 4-15 start for the remainder of the year. It’s one thing to be that bad offensively. But to be that BAD in the bullpen, again?

Safe to say, it almost feels like 100+ losses is a foregone conclusion at this point. The only hope now is that the Royals avoid setting the club record for losses, which was the 104 they accumulated in 2018.

Is There Any Room for Hope?

Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I say “yes”, though I think “hope” should be taken with some context.

This team is likely going to lose 100 or more games this season. It was a fear I had going into the season, and the lack of depth on this roster and the pitching staff currently on the 40-man roster is evident that 100 or more losses seem like a likely scenario.

A mediocre club can get away with retreads and “turnaround” stories in Spring Training. But when the games “really” begin, a team with a lack of talent can get exposed really quick, especially by teams fully healthy and brimming with more high-caliber talent, which we saw in this homestand with Atlanta and Texas.

The Royals are 11 games under .500 as of Wednesday and that gap is bound to only grow wider in the coming weeks and months. That alone is going to make an already pessimistic group of Royals fans even more frustrated that this summer at Kauffman Stadium is going to be one of the longer ones in club history.

However, there are some glimmers of hope going on, even if it may be slim and hard to spot in the fogginess of frequent defeat.

Witt is hitting .260 with a .774 OPS and seems to be cemented in as the Royals’ everyday leadoff hitter. He also hit his third home run of the year and could be primed for a 30 HR-30 SB season as long as he stays healthy.

Vinnie collected two hits and improved not only his on-base streak to 14 games but also his OPS to .886 for the year. Despite being a late-round pick, Pasquantino is on his way to being one of the best hitters that the Royals to ever come through the Royals farm system.

Reyes has also raised his batting average to .262 after a two-hit game that also netted him an RBI. And after a brutal outing on Tuesday night, Hernandez came back out on Wednesday and pitched a sterling inning of work which included two strikeouts and zero walks on 20 pitches.

While Melendez’s peripheral stats are bad, and his whiff rate is still a concern, he is hitting the ball as hard as Witt or Pasquantino. It just could be a matter of time before things turn around for him in the statistical categories, though the lackluster start is frustrating for both Royals fans and fantasy baseball managers who roster Melendez in their leagues (which includes me).

Of course, it’s easy to focus on the negatives, both on a team and player level, after 19 games.

But this current roster won’t last for long.

Moves are going to be made starting in May.

It’s likely that Michael Massey and Nate Eaton will be down in Omaha soon, and Samad Taylor, Nick Pratto, and perhaps Maikel Garcia will be up in Kansas City getting at-bats and playing time in the field. Nick Loftin will eventually get added to the 40-man roster, and his MLB debut likely will happen this year after his hot start in Omaha.

There will also be more moves on the pitching end as well.

Jackson Kowar and Jonathan Heasley had mediocre Cactus League campaigns and got off to poor starts with the Storm Chasers. That said, they have pitched better as of late, especially Heasley, who went seven innings and allowed zero walks, which is a major development.

Both Heasley and Kowar could be call-ups in the next week or two, especially if Kris Bubic is expected to be out for long (hopefully not, but it’s hard to be optimistic considering that they are getting a second opinion).

Another dark horse could be Alec Marsh, who’s pitching in Double-A Northwest Arkansas but was recently added to the 40-man roster this offseason. Marsh would most likely be in a bullpen role, but he gives the Royals some strikeout potential on the pitching staff.

And who knows what JJ Picollo could do once the “trade” season heats up.

This last offseason, Picollo showed he wasn’t afraid to wheel and deal, as evidenced by the Michael A. Taylor trade to Minnesota and the Adalberto Mondesi trade to Boston. Once Scott Barlow regresses a bit, could Picollo get some kind of return for him? What kind of package could the Royals receive for Aroldis Chapman? Will they perhaps trade one of their position prospects like Pratto or Garcia to help restock the lower levels of their Minor League system?

And speaking of lower levels, Royals fans have to be optimistic about the outlooks of Cayden Wallace and Gavin Cross in High-A Quad Cities and Frank Mozzicato in Columba, who have gotten off to solid starts in 2023.

They won’t be up in 2023, but they give hope for 2024 and beyond.

It’s going to be a true “rebuilding” season in Kansas City in 2023. No “false hope”. No “Maybe they will be the 2022 Baltimore Orioles.” No “They can surprise like 2013”.

This is a 100-loss season, best-case scenario. For some Royals fans, that may be enough to tune out immediately, especially after a 4-15 start.

But there is still a long season ahead, and plenty of moves ahead. Jackie Bradley, Jr. won’t be on this roster for much longer, and the same will probably be true of a couple of others.

And once those moves happen, we’ll start to see better days ahead in Kansas City. It will be like those “trust the process” days in Houston when Jeff Luhnow took over and “blew up” the Astros to start a scouting and analytical movement throughout the organization.

The first years were rough, but eventually, the Astros not only became a winning club again but collected two World Series titles as a result (though a scandal was mixed in).

Don’t expect the Royals to manifest a lot in the win column this year.

But things will get better, especially once those roster changes happen…

And we start to see who steps up and emerges, whether they are from within the organization currently, or come later from another club via a midseason trade.

That’s the hope I’m resting on for now.

Then again, I am an optimistic Royals fan after all.

Photo Credit: Myself


3 thoughts on “How Bad Can It Get for the Royals (And Royals Fans) in 2023?

  1. The Royals have hit rock bottom, I don’t think they play any worse. They will sort out their pitching and find a few players who can give a few professional at-bats; and still lose 100 games.
    The Cardinals in STL are actually in worse shape. They have two exspensive players and a bunch of average guys, along with a pitching staff that seems lost. Their fan base still has high expectations, and aren’t going to accept mediocrity too well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Part of tonight’s failure is on the manager. Why in the world would be let Yarbrough walk the bases loaded. What the hell is he thinking. I am no Manager but even I know he should have removed Yarbrougha couple of hitters earlier. I am not convinced he was a good choice.


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