If the Kansas City Royals go on to do great things this season, these past couple weeks will be written off and mostly forgotten. If they don’t, though, these are the past two weeks that will likely be pointed to all season long. Remember 2013? The Royals went 14-10 in April, 16-11 in June, 15-10 in July, 16-15 in August and 17-10 in September. That’s a 78-56 record. That’s a 94-win pace over 162 games. 94 wins in 2013 would have given the Royals the AL Central title. Instead, they missed the playoffs by six games. Why? Because they went 8-20 in May. If they had just gone .500, they would have tied for a Wild Card spot, and who knows? Maybe we’d be talking about three straight trips to the World Series.
They’re just 2-7 in their last nine games. Those stretches happen all the time, even to good teams. But if this team ends up two games out of a playoff spot, this stretch will be remembered almost as fondly as May of 2013. Let’s get to the notes.
- Last week, Craig and I both wrote about Alcides Escobar and how he doesn’t belong in the leadoff spot. If we’re being honest, he still doesn’t, but I like to think we provided him the motivation necessary to get things going. He’s hitting .417/.462/.500 since then, and is currently not a problem in a struggling lineup. Kendrys Morales, however, is. A lot of people will likely demand why I’m picking on Morales when Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon have been problems as well. I’ll tell you why. Morales has been worse. Gordon isn’t hitting, but he’s still getting on base. He has a .324 OBP. No, that’s not enough, especially given his contract, but at least he’s providing some value. Cain is hitting for no power, but at least he’s looked a little better and has hit .310 over the past week or so. Morales, on the other hand, looks lost. He’s the hitter I’m most worried about. His walk rate is way down. His strikeout rate is way up. He’s not hitting line drives. He’s basically doing nothing. He does have the highest hard hit ball percentage on the team, so that’s something to hang your hat on. And he has shown some signs of actually driving the ball over the last few games. Maybe he’s about to come out of this. I hope he is because him hitting fifth in this lineup is causing what few rallies guys like Cain and Hosmer are producing to fizzle out quickly. The problem is that there isn’t a great option to flip him, but I guess you could throw Salvador Perez in that spot for a few games, though he’s going pretty poorly right now too. I guess I’ll write about him next week after Morales gets going to prove me wrong.
- I tweeted on Wednesday that it might be time to get Dillon Gee a look in the rotation in place of Kris Medlen, and after a couple days to think about it, I still think that’s true. I was ridiculously bullish on Medlen before the season. I thought he could be the Royals best starter inning-for-inning. He still could be. But he hasn’t been, and it’s not close. It’s not that Medlen has been especially ineffective. He’s had two bad starts and three solid enough starts. Part of it is that the bad starts have been really bad, but a big issue right now for Medlen is that he just isn’t giving the Royals any innings. Royals starters are currently on pace to throw less than 900 innings. Only 10 teams in the last five years have gotten less than 900 innings from their starters. I don’t think the Royals will end up there, but it’s fair to point out that’s how they’re pacing at this point. Medlen is a big reason for that. He’s gone just 11 innings in his last three starts and has averaged about 13 outs per start this season. That’s terrible and a huge strain on the bullpen. The off days are drying up. They can’t afford to throw four or five innings every fifth day. A big part of the issue is that Medlen is having trouble throwing strikes. He allowed just one hit against Seattle, but he walked five. In a game in which he was extremely difficult to square up, he couldn’t get out of the sixth. I don’t think it’s time to pull the plug on Medlen just yet, but I wouldn’t have a long leash on him. He needs to work through the command issues in the bullpen so he can become a guy who can give the Royals six innings far more regularly. I wish there was a better replacement than Gee, but there just isn’t right now, so he’s the guy if a move needs to be made soon.
- Would you believe Luke Hochevar has a higher ERA than Joakim Soria? Michael Engel pointed that out to me and I was shocked by it. ERA for relievers is a finicky mistress, so I don’t put much stock into it, but it was interesting to me. It led me to look at what Soria has actually done recently. I think Hunter Samuels will write about his velocity here in the next few days, so I won’t get too deep into it, but he’s throwing harder than he ever has before. Maybe a mechanical tweak from Dave Eiland has been the difference. Here’s something to consider with Soria. Since the Opening Day debacle, he’s made 13 appearances, gone 12.2 innings, given up 12 hits, struck out 11 and walked six. He has an ERA of 2.84 in that time. Yes, he’s allowed too many base runners, but how many people would be worried about Soria if that was his overall line? A few would point out the runners, sure, but the general perception would be that he’s been good enough. It’s truly amazing what one game for a reliever, especially the first game, can do for perception.
- On the subject of Hochevar, how amazing is it that he went from a guy who used to have a meltdown inning almost every game to a guy who is called upon to be the fireman in the Royals bullpen? The season is just 27 games old and he’s already come in to deal with 15 inherited runners. He’s allowed one to score. ONE! That means just 7 percent of inherited runners have scored on him. The league average is 30 percent. Only Andrew Chafin of the Diamondbacks had seen more inherited runners heading into play yesterday than Hochevar, and of relievers who had faced 10 or more inherited runners, only Josh Osich of the Giants had allowed a lower percentage to score. It’s pretty amazing to see him wiggle out of those jams.
- This is a big road trip coming up for the Royals. The Indians are a pretty good team, but not great and the Yankees are sort of in disarray at the moment. Winning on the road is hard, and the Royals have struggled mightily there, losing seven of their last eight. But this is important. Getting a win over division foes is huge, so that’s why the Indians series looms so large, and then keeping losing teams losing is extremely important as well. I’m not sure what I actually expect from this road trip, but a 5-2 mark would go a long way toward people truly believing in this team again. I think that anything from 3-4 or better to come home would likely be just fine, though it would be nice if they’d remain over .500 rather than dip to it or even under at some point during the trip. It’s hard to have too big of a trip in early May, but this one is pretty big in hoping that a struggling team finds a way to right the ship.