Scott Alexander

Royals Already Behind Before the First Checkpoint

The Royals are 7-12 and look about as bad as they’ve looked at any time over the last few seasons. They haven’t scored more than two runs in a game since Saturday, April 15th. They’re 2-6 in that time, which is actually probably better than they should be given how good the starting pitching has been. I want to say yesterday was the culmination of that stretch when they were embarrassed by the White Sox, but I’m not sure it was the culmination because I’m honestly not sure how much longer this will go on. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Most of the minimal optimism that remains with this team is based on time and not on any signs we’ve actually seen from them. But I think time and track record at least have some calming impact when thinking about the 2017 Royals. We’re starting to get to the point where if someone says “it’s early,” they’re met with a response of wondering if it actually is. More than 10 percent of the season is now gone. As we often do, if you compare this to the NFL season, the Royals are into the third quarter of their second game, staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start. But this isn’t football, which means there’s more hope, even after a 7-12 start.

The issue for the Royals, of course, is that they’re not judged on a 162 game scale like previous iterations of this team have been and like most other teams are. I’ve mentioned the checkpoints for this team. They shift slightly from time to time, but basically they face their first at the end of April. They’re already behind in that one because they needed a winning April, and a winning April would have been 11 losses or less. They’re at 12. They’re 19 games in to their first 24-game checkpoint and they’ve already fallen well behind.

You don’t need me to tell you why they’ve fallen so far behind. It’s not because the bullpen has had a couple massive blowups like the one we saw last night, though that hasn’t helped. We all know the offense is a huge problem. I bet if I asked you who is actually performing on this team, you’d tell me Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. But what if I told you Perez isn’t even performing very well? He’s doing his customary thing of swinging at everything to the tune of a .265 OBP and .252 TAv. Yes, he has some home runs, but he’s really fallen off since that hot start he had.

So what’s the point here? Is it time to call it a day and trade off the pending free agents? The answer is not yet. Those checkpoints are important and the April one is really more of a check-in. Still, though, they’ve already blown that one. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still time, though. The next 12 games are huge for this team. They face division foes in all of them. They’re currently 0-4 against the AL Central, having been swept by the Twins and crushed by the White Sox last night. That’s the first step. I don’t want to say these are must-win series in April, but they’re kind of must-win series. They need to get at least one against the White Sox this week and then win their next four series. That means two of three against the Twins, three of four against the White Sox and two of three against the Indians. That’s an 8-4 stretch. That would put them at 15-16.

Then that brings us to the next checkpoint, which is Memorial Day. There’s 20 games following the next 12 game stretch. Take 12 of those games to sit at 27-24 and the ship is back on course. That’s what they need to do now. They need to go 20-12 over their next 32 games to get back into this thing. If they’re within three games of .500, they can have until the end of June to prove that they shouldn’t be wheeling and dealing all their pending free agents, but if they’re farther than that, it’s time to start gauging the market.

You might be wondering how they’re going to avoid that fate given the way this team has looked over the last few games. I am too. We saw some inevitable regression from Jason Vargas last night. I imagine that will continue as I don’t believe him to be a true talent 1.40 ERA guy. We’ll see some regression from Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy too. They can still be good, but they’ve all been unsustainably great so far. I think the Royals are lucky to have the seven wins they do, so how are they going to find their way to 20 more when facing the likes of the Indians, Yankees and Orioles 16 times in that 32 game stretch? I really don’t know.

All I know is that they have to figure this out or the end of one of the greatest eras of Royals baseball will come sooner than we all hoped.

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