Hello darkness, my old friend. The Royals are seven games under .500 and even after an extended run of success, it almost feels right. That doesn’t mean I like it, but it feels like we’re back home again rooting for a bad team. Is this really a bad team? I don’t know. Maybe? They’re definitely a slumping team because even a bad team doesn’t struggle so hard to score just three runs. I think. I hope. The only thing that’s for certain is if the Royals want to turn this last hurrah season into something special, things need to turn around like yesterday.
- That’s where I’ll start, I guess. Personally, it’s too early in the season for me to have lost all hope for a team that I actually really liked coming out of Surprise. I’m looking for something, anything, to hang my hat on with this offense. The problem is that it’s pretty hard to find. They’re not hitting the ball especially hard or especially far. They are hitting into some bad luck, but they’re creating some of their bad luck by not hitting the ball hard or far. So I’m not really sure where to look. The approaches of Whit Merrifield and Jorge Bonifacio have been welcome additions to the lineup. They carry the second and third best OBPs among Royals hitters now, though their sample is much smaller than everyone else’s. So that’s encouraging. Mike Moustakas has looked really good in the early going. I guess I’ll have to stick with knowing that these guys can’t possibly be this bad. All of these players have been no worse than slightly below average in the very recent past. I find it hard to believe that they’ve become garbage big league hitters in the blink of an eye, especially some of the players supposedly in their primes and looking toward big pay days. Yeah, I’ll go with that. I guess it’s also somewhat encouraging that they at least had runners on base to leave on base in Wednesday’s game. That’s better than what we’d seen.
- On the subject of Bonifacio, his solid play in his first five games makes me go back to the offseason trade of Wade Davis for Jorge Soler. I wasn’t a huge fan of the deal at the time because I believed the Royals could have gotten more for Davis. What I hadn’t thought about was the implications on the future of the Royals by acquiring Soler. Think back to December of 2012 when the Royals traded for Davis and James Shields by sending Wil Myers and company to the Rays. The rationale at the time was that the Royals could afford to trade Myers because they had Bonifacio in the pipeline. Four years later (admittedly some not great minor league seasons for Bonifacio), they traded for a guy to block his path to the big leagues. If Bonifacio continues to hit well in what limited time he has left with the big club before Soler returns, I think that makes the trade look even worse in hindsight. Then when you factor in Hunter Dozier as a corner outfielder now, it’s fair to question the deal even more given that they now have Alex Gordon, Dozier, Soler and Bonifacio as corner outfield pieces who are all under team control through at least 2019. I’m not saying the trade is now a disaster or anything, but it certainly makes you think.
- I feel like we should talk about something positive, so how about Joakim Soria? Nine games and 10 innings into his season of redemption and he hasn’t given up a run and he’s struck out 12 while allowing only five hits. He’s allowed one inherited runner out of three to score, which was unfortunate at the time, but he’s been really, really good. I felt like when I saw him in spring training that his slider was snapping much better. It has looked better, though the only at bat that’s ended on it has been a hit. What’s been different is that he’s using his fastball a little bit less, and, like so many other Royals pitchers, he’s using his changeup more. This season he’s used it 29.2 percent of the time compared with just 18.1 percent of the time last year. He allowed a .173 average on it last season, so I’m not sure why he didn’t go to it more, but he’s definitely using it more now. And it’s made his fastball even better with no hits in 15 at bats against it during the regular season. I’m sure he’ll give up a run at some point and some people will throw a fit about it, but Soria has been really, really good this season and it’s been great to see.
- Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Travis Wood as he’s looking like one of the big swings and misses by Dayton Moore this offseason. Truthfully, all three of his late offseason signings (Wood, Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss) have been misses, but Wood seems like the worst so far. He’s given up 11 runs on nine hits with eight walks in just 5.1 innings. He’s already lost two games and has an ERA of 18.56. If you’re looking for optimism, BP does believe he’s pitched worse than the numbers indicate as his DRA is a much more manageable 14.52. I didn’t love the Wood signing from a baseball perspective because he doesn’t miss bats and his control isn’t elite, so I was worried that might be a bit of an issue. I did love that the Royals went out and signed one of the better available pitchers on the market. I loved what that represented. I also didn’t expect it to be this bad. There almost has to be something wrong with him to have this kind of trouble with the strike zone. Don’t be surprised if he has a back injury or some other muscle ailment that puts him on the disabled list for a little bit so they can work to get him right without having to continue to use him on the big league roster. They need to do something because he has been an absolute train wreck.