Ned Yost was pretty jazzed up about a 3-7 start after Wednesday’s game, and I get it. The team had basically been horrible offensively and the bullpen was a disaster at times and the ace of the staff hadn’t completed six innings in any of his three starts. With that combination, three wins in 10 games might actually be about as good as you could expect, so with all that in mind, sure, a 3-7 start (now 3-8) isn’t the worst thing in the world. And if the Royals were expected to contend, you could certainly argue that even the best teams have stretches where nothing works and all that. But this team isn’t expected to contend and the first couple weeks of the season have done very little to change anyone’s opinion about that. Basically what I’m saying is that if you’re upset by what the Royals have done this year, you didn’t pay attention to the offseason.
- The nice thing is that this team has had some really nice bright spots in the early going, and some of them are actually important for the future. The obvious is Jake Junis and I’ll get to him in a minute, but another pitcher who has looked outstanding is Brad Keller. I’ve said this before, but when spring training started, I figured Keller would be a guy the Royals would need to swing a deal to keep. Now he might be one of their two or three best relievers. He’s only struck out one hitter in five innings, but he’s already been used in some big situations early and hasn’t walked anyone unintentionally while allowing just two hits. The double play he induced in Wednesday’s game was a key moment that would have seemed even bigger after the game had Justin Grimm not hung a curve to Kyle Seager in the eighth. Keller doesn’t turn 23 until the end of July, and I think he might have a nice future ahead of him. I’m not completely sold on him starting, given his last two minor league seasons as a starter, but that stuff plays in the bullpen. I don’t think he’s a future closer or anything (though I’ve been wrong before), but a 93-96 MPH fastball along with a really effective slider can be a nice weapon in the bullpen. People liked Kevin McCarthy because he was able to get some ground balls, but I think Keller is just a much better version of that, and that’s valuable.
- Jorge Bonifacio’s suspension was a real killer for this offense given the role he was expected to play, but the amount of time he’ll be out will give the Royals a really nice opportunity for some evaluation. The person I’m thinking of here is Cheslor Cuthbert specifically, who looked like he might be without a role when Mike Moustakas was signed and then found one when Bonifacio was given his vacation. The Royals really like Cuthbert, though that may have waned a bit from a few years ago. Still, they think he has a big chance to be a part of the future. That said, on the heels of a .231/.275/.322 season, he needs to make good on the potential the Royals once saw in him. And he has that opportunity now, which I think is meaningful because when Bonifacio comes back, the logjam will return as well. A lot think it’s a foregone conclusion that Moustakas will be shopped at the deadline, and while that seems likely, another conclusion could emerge. If Cuthbert doesn’t show enough to convince the Royals that he belongs, I think there’s a chance they take a different approach and cut bait with him and look to sign Moustakas to an extension. Yes, Hunter Dozier is still in the system, but other than him, there isn’t a potential third baseman especially close to the big leagues. Cuthbert has looked good to me in spring and at times in the early part of the season, so this isn’t a prediction, but if he does struggle, I do think that’s a direction the Royals could go.
- Okay, I waited as long as I could, and I don’t have anything especially groundbreaking to say about Jake Junis, but wow. As good as he looked at the end of the year and as well as he pitched in spring training, his first two starts have been even better than I think anyone could have imagined. Two scoreless starts spanning seven innings each is pretty impressive. It’s not that the Tigers are especially good, but the Mariners offense isn’t bad. Personally I’m interested to see what he does in some better weather, but it looks like he’ll be pitching in the cold again tomorrow, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out and then he’ll get the Tigers again, so maybe he can start on a crazy roll for his first four starts and let him carry that through his season. According to Brooks Baseball, he’s been throwing his sinker a lot more so far this season, and in a small sample, his ground ball numbers have gone up by four percent, which isn’t nothing. He’s also thrown first pitch strikes to two out of every three batters he’s faced. That’s not a bad way to live given how good his stuff is when he’s on. He hasn’t struck a ton of guys out, so that’s worth keeping an eye on, but he’s lived up to the billing and then some.
- When Nate Karns was placed on the disabled list prior to Opening Day, it really put a dent in one of the ways the Royals could have found their way to respectability this season. I mentioned before the year that if you could tell me that Danny Duffy, Karns and Junis would combine for 85 to 90 starts, I’d tell you that the Royals had a shot to maybe potentially be within shouting distance of .500. Well we know that’s not happening, and I don’t think anyone can actually believe Eric Skoglund is the answer. The answer that I think we’ll see sooner than later is Clay Buchholz, but I’m honestly not sure how to feel about it. On one hand, does it really matter? On the other hand, Clay Buchholz? The positive of it is that he actually has been pretty okay in relatively recent history. The downside is that he’s also been plenty bad in recent history. Either way, the starting pitching has been a bright spot, but that fifth spot looks like it’ll be a revolving door for awhile.