On Tuesday, May 8, the Royals offense erupted for 10 runs in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles. Since then, they are 2-9.
In the just completed six game homestand against the Rays and Yankees, the Royals held the lead just once. On Friday, they jumped out to a 1-0 lead in their half of the first and held it all the way through nine. In four of the six games, they trailed before they even came to the plate in their half of the first.
We are now 46 games into the season, meaning we are well past the quarter point and beyond the 40 or so games Dayton Moore likes to have in hand before he renders judgment on his squad. What have we learned in the first quarter of the 2018 season?
The Royals are dreadful.
None of this should be a surprise. Well, maybe the .304 winning percentage. That translates to 49 wins. Forty nine! At least they’re interesting. Except when they’re not.
Maybe this is how things play out when the “contenders” meet the “tankers.*” The competitive imbalance is so real in the American League that when the Royals face teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros, it’s bound to result in a bloodletting of tiresome proportions. There was nothing remotely interesting in these weekend games, unless you are a fan of counting down to the inevitable. The only drama on Sunday was whether Sonny Gray, he of the 71 ERA+ entering the game, could finish off a perfect game. Or a shutout. (The answer to both questions was a tepid, “No.”)
*Except the Royals aren’t trying to tank!
Duffy “leads” Royals starters in H/9 (11.1), BB/9 (4.4) and HR/9 (2.5). Taken alone, any one of those numbers would be cause for some concern. Taken together and you have a five alarm fire.
The Royals need to make a decision on Duffy. He can go on the disabled list with a sore shoulder or a stiff elbow or a jammed eyelid. That buys him a mental break it sure seems like he could use. Shut things down for a bit, gather your thoughts and come back hopefully a little refreshed in an attempt to get your season back on track.
The other option is moving him to the bullpen. It worked before, so why not try it again? The Royals are smart enough to frame it not as a demotion, rather the opportunity to get things right. Duffy is too valuable to this team to flounder in the rotation. And he’s too valuable to pitch just one or two innings at a time in relief.
So the Royals and Duffy have to come to some sort of agreement on a plan to put things on a more positive track. Apparently, Ned Yost is against sending Duffy to the pen. “That’s not happening,” Yost said after Saturday’s game. “He’s a major league starter.” At this point, that statement seems to stretch the boundaries of reality.
Yost teases he has some ideas on how to help Duffy, but he’s not going to let anyone know, lest opposing teams take advanatge. Kind of like they’re doing right now.
The point is, the Royals need to take action to try to solve the Duffy enigma. We’ve seen enough to know doing nothing is not an option.
(Recall I am pessimistic on Duffy’s future. He’s not the Royals ace. Not anymore. And it’s highly unlikely he will ever pitch good enough again to reclaim his position. Still, Duffy needs to find his mojo and settle in as a hopefully competent middle to back of the rotation starter. The kind of guy who gives you five innings and allows four runs and you feel good about that. In other words, a recalibration of expectations are in order.)
Meanwhile, you surely saw Clay Buchholz throw five innings of two hit ball for the Diamondbacks on Sunday. The Diamondbacks hold the top spot of the NL West and are slumping, yet have playoff aspirations. Buchholz, as you recall, was signed by the Royals prior to the season to a minor league contract. He had an opt-out in his contract that would allow him to be released on May 1 if he wasn’t on the major league roster. The opt-out was exercised and he was snapped up by Arizona.
While Royals starting pitchers are the accelerant to the American League spark, it beggars the question as to why, exactly, was Buchholz even signed in the first place. He threw 16 innings for the Royals between Double and Triple-A before his opt-out came into play. They had to know, given the date of his initial signing, that Buchholz would have close to that number of innings under his belt at that point in the season. Look, I get letting Junis and Skogland get their innings at the major league level. It would be disingenuous of me to argue for Buchholz ahead of either, given I’m wholly in the corner of Team Tank. Yet at the same time, inexpensive veterans like Buchholz are exactly the type of player a team like the Royals should be exploring. It’s unlikely such a player would return anything on the trade market, but as long as there’s a chance they could spin a little thread into even the tiniest piece of gold, doesn’t it make sense for the Royals to give him a big league look? Alas, Buchholz isn’t going to jump ahead of the overpriced and underperforming triumvirate of Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. Maybe Buchholz was brought on board to hedge against the injury bet.
At any rate, l’affaire Buchholz is typical Royals. Sometimes, it just seems like they don’t have much of an idea of what they want to do. Don’t misunderstand, Buchholz is a fringe starter at this point and would have made minimal impact in the Royals rotation. But what, exactly, is the plan? Do the Royals themselves have any idea what they’re doing in these early stages of their rebuild? (They’re not tanking!)
The same question could be raised about how they handle Duffy at this point going forward. They say they have some ideas, they indicate they have a plan to move forward. But do they really? And should we believe them when they say they do?
Along with the return of the losses, distrust is making a comeback as well.