The Royals fell flat on their faces in their first series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

Falling Flat

Over the weekend, the Royals endured what could be the worst start to a homestand in team history.

They lost all three games against division rivals Cleveland. Luke Hochevar gave up seven runs before many fans had even reached their seats for the first time in 2012, then left the game after a line drive hit him in the ankle. Jonathan Sanchez lived up to his worst-case scenario and, despite a spirited comeback, fielding and baserunning errors took the Royals out of position to win a game they could have stolen. The momentum died when the team’s best reliever gave up two runs.

In the third and final game, the Royals brought a depleted bullpen into play and watched Luis Mendoza lose his control, leave the ball up, and ended up with Mitch Maier as the best pitcher all weekend.

In the end, the Royals scored nine and seven runs respectively in games 2 and 3 – and lost both.

They gave up 32 runs. Three different starters allowed at least five runs in one inning. The pitching staff nearly walked as many as they struck out.

So now what?

This was supposed to be Mission 2012. This is supposed to be Our Time, but the Royals have followed up a decent road trip that had their ERA under three to completely blowing up over the weekend.

For the sake of perspective, the Royals had never given up 32 runs in the first three games of a homestand before. The 2005 team gave up 20 in their first three games during a 2-6 start where they gave up a total of 48 runs. That team boasted an opening day rotation of Jose Lima, Runelvys Hernandez, a young Zack Greinke, Denny Bautista and Brian Anderson. They finished a combined 21-51 and Hernandez’s 5.52 ERA was the best of the group.

That team lost 106 games.

In 1981 and 1993, the Royals gave up 27 runs during their first homestands – but they were more than one series. That makes the Royals futility against Cleveland look much worse. They scored runs but gave up so many that they were fighting uphill nearly the whole time. They had a lead for two-thirds of an inning in the entire series, giving up six runs after Luis Mendoza retired the first two Indians in the inning. Four weren’t earned due to a dropped foul pop up that should have ended the inning (and a bad call at first), but he gave up a homer and hit after hit afterward. Can’t blame Hosmer or the ump for Mendoza’s pitching after the plays.

Nonetheless, it’s still very early in the season and nothing went right for the Royals this weekend. The biggest highlight of the series was getting a slight one-up over Cleveland in the bean ball wars (and really it’s one of those moral victories because the Royals didn’t win the game but merely got three Indians ejected).

The weekend was a baseball disaster and the young team will have to learn from it. How they fare going forward could depend on it.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luke Hochevar MLB Royals

  • eric.akers

    Way to early to give up on mission 2012.  We had a first run through the rotation where we seemed to overachieve followed by some horribleness the second run through.  We know they won’t be as good as the first set, and we know they won’t be as bad as the second time through.
    I went to yesterday’s game, and there were some bright spots. (I actually sat through the entire thing)  Chris Getz was hitting the ball very well and nearly hit one out to center.  Brayan Pena was also hitting the ball hard and had a 4 hit game.  Brayan was fantastic behind the plate all day actually, and made an impressive diving stop of Gordo’s throw home.  Bourgeois made a great catch in center after replacing Billy late in the game.  And they made really good decisions on the bases all day.
    Gordo and Frenchie were terrible at the plate, but most everybody else seemed to have quality at bats.  This game was doomed however as soon as Mendoza had to come out after 4 innings.  The game could have looked different if we had gotten that call at first or if Hosmer had made the catch in foul territory, but you can’t let stuff like that just ruin a game in only one inning, no excuses.

  • the5allens

    i agree that it is too early to panic, however – we are seeing that these Royals are who we thought they were.  A team that might be scrappy offensively, but who have the potential for a horrible rotation (except for Duffy).  I know that April statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt, but this is baseball, and fans do what fans do – obsess and overthink at every step during the long 162 game season.
    I am a Royals fan, grew up outside KC, but currently live in VA.  I am following the Nationals this year, and would like to show some comparisons between the two teams to show just what a difference a pitching staff can make.  There are other teams that could be compared, and their competition has to be taken into account.  maybe we can argue whether i am choosing a suitable comparison. Instead of arguing these points, please just let me compare my 2 favorite teams.
    Offensively, the teams are pretty similar.  Triple slash #’s:  KC = .255 / .301 / .333 , DC = .253 / .335 / .348.  DC’s better OBP is due to their ability to take a walk – DC has 50, KC has 24.  That’s right – double.  DC has scored slightly more runs (46 vs 42), but KC has more total bases (156 vs 147).  Variables include the lack of a DH for DC, which would skew their numbers down a bit, but DC has played approximately 15 more innings overall (partly due to several extra inning games already) which should balance the lack of a DH. 
    However, the teams are night-and-day in terms of pitching.  DC crushes KC in every meaningful (and probably the meaningless ones also) category:  IP (113 vs 98.2), whip (1.035 vs 1.419), ERA (1.91 vs 4.38), ERA+ (195 vs 104), Ks (117 vs 89), H/9 (6.2 vs 9.1), BB/9 (3.1 vs 8.1), and K/9 (9.3 vs 2.23).  These pitching stats are for the entire staff, not just the starters, but I consider the bullpens relatively equal in terms of ability and strength – until one gets overworked due to poor performance by the starters.
    I am certainly not suggesting that anyone has argued that these staffs are similar, which they clearly are not.  I am trying to suggest the difference that a competent pitching staff can make on a team’s overall position.  KC is 3-8, while DC is 9-3.  If they are producing similar offensive numbers, and these pitching stats are the big difference, draw your own conclusion.
    The Nats demoted John Lannan, who was their opening day starter for the past 2 years, to AAA due to the depth of their rotation.  And they currently have Chen Meing-Wang on the DL, and when he returns they will again have too many starters.  And they have Tom Gorzelany, a former starter, pitching long relief out of the pen.  These are options, something these Royals simply don’t have.
    Let me put a face on the equation.  Washington’s current fifth starter is a lefty named Ross Detwiler.  Ross is a Missouri boy.  Early in the spring, DC’s manager named John Lannan as his fifth starter, leaving Detwiler to the bullpen or the minors (he was out of options, so likely the pen).  What would it have cost to acquire him from DC at that point ?  he has now made 2 starts, and here are his stats:  10 IP, 8Ks, ERA 0.90, whip 1.100, K/9 7.2. That stat line makes him at least our second best starter, maybe our best, in this young 2012 season.
    Will Detwiler end the year with a stat line this good ?  maybe not.  and let’s hope that our starters don’t end the year with a stat line this bad.  But, what if ?  and, right here right now, what if our starters were better?  would our bullpen be better, pitching with more rest and less stress?  would our hitters be hitting better, feeling less pressure to hit a 6-run homerun each at bat ?  If our young guys continue to press and struggle, will they get sent down ?  what does that do to their psyches, long-term ?
    My point is this – without some core to the rotation (and I think Duffy is our only pitcher who fits this concept), this team will simply struggle or fail.  I think that the poor performance overall by the pitching staff may be causing the young hitters to press too much, thus accounting for the disappointing offensive numbers we are seeing.
    Coming into this season, we had a couple of trading pieces that might have been useful to address this hole:  Soria and Butler.  I think each of these players were: 1) proven performers with trade value, and 2) relatively replaceable with players already in the organization.  By this, I don’t mean to say that we had players who were equal to these guys, but we did have players who could play that position and who have shown promise.  For instance, we can argue all day long about whether Clint Robinson can hit at the major league level, but we won’t know until / unless we see.  And if he can’t, then we could find others who can hit in the DH spot.  They might end up as lesser overall players at that one spot, but this team needs to be judged on the whole.
    And, these guys could have been traded without disrupting “the process” – its not like giving up Hosmer, Mouse, Escobar, Duffy, Montgomery, Myers, Starling, etc.  Obviously, its too late for Soria, and he may even end up released due to contract issues, and thus available on the free market. 
    I disagree that we can salve our wounds by noting that Chris Getz almost hit one out, or that Brayan Pena had a 4 hit game.  He won’t likely be starting at the end of the year, when Sal comes back from his injury.  A single good game from backup players doesn’t fix this rotation.
    and this point is key when it comes to our rotation – we have too many rotation candidates that we have to convince ourselves should be taken seriously.  Mendoza, Paolino, Hochever, even Sanchez – all came with an asterisk as to why they will be good this year.  If you squint really hard, and only consider this several game stretch, there is reason for hope.  When competitive teams are demoting last year’s starting day pitcher, we are convincing ourselves that this latest reclamation project is a viable candidate.
    Leaving us the question – for how long will we run this rotation out there, patting ourselves on the back that we have the league’s best DH ?  Are we risking damage to our “process” by failing to address our weak rotation ?  Will these young players get discouraged at the losing, and flee via free agency at their earliest opportunity ?

  • michael.allen.engel

     @the5allens Good stuff.  We knew the rotation would be an issue going into the season, but only Chen and Duffy have been consistent in the early appearances. Every pitcher has had issues. For most of the bullpen guys I think it’s a short term thing. They pitch so many fewer innings that one bad night messes up their numbers, but I agree, the rotation is where it all starts. 
    I think Dayton is thinking the young pitchers like Montgomery and the like will form the core around Duffy…but so far that’s looking both far away and unlikely unless some things turn around. I think they’ll have to do some spending this offseason and get a couple of pitchers in or move some players around because the starters just aren’t developing like they thought they would. 

  • eric.akers

     @the5allens It is difficult to judge these things statistically after just 12 games. In 12 games, a team can play terrible or way over their heads.  Comparing stats as to why teams have won games at this point doesn’t make much since yet. Look at Atlanta, they are pitching about as well as we are, and they are hitting even worse, yet they sit at 7-5.  Nobody looking at the Royals would expect them not to improve on both pitching and hitting.
    We could have won all three games against Detroit, and we would be sitting at 6-6. Through some bad luck, bad decisions, or possibly the hitters pressing too much, we couldn’t pull any of them out.  My point is that their is no need to panic, the play will improve. We are who we are; a young team that will go through these periods of bad play followed by periods of great play.
    As for the discussion about Getz and Pena, I was merely discussing what I considered extraordinary events from one loss, not trying to say it should make us feel better about the losing streak.

  • the5allens

     @eric.akers I agree with most of what you say.  Comparing any 2 teams, at any point, is difficult, especially when its such a small sample size.  I agree that its too early to panic.
    however, i do disagree with the statement that: “Nobody looking at the Royals would expect them not to improve on both pitching and hitting”. I do (hope) expect the hitters to be better, and the bullpen.  But this rotation, and I have been saying this all along, is not good.  what reason do we have to assume that this rotation will improve ?  
    Technically, sure I would expect Jon Sanchez to pitch to an ERA lower than his current 6.39, and Hochever lower than his current 7.84, so yes technically i expect them to pitch somewhat better.  But how much better ? I fear not enough – I do not believe this rotation will be passable this year.  I take your comment as intended to refer to a meaningful improvement in performance, and not just predicting some meaningless miniscule statistical improvement.
    what reason would there be for a KC fan to expect the rotation to improve (other than the law of averages – “they can’t be this bad all year, can they”)?  This is where my comment about Getz and Pena come into play – Royals fans (and fans of any sports team with a long history of losing) find ways to convince themselves that hope is just around the corner.
    All of the offseason articles about this rotation focused on these various “reasons for hope” – that Hochever figured it out in the second half last year, that Mendoza found the answer and proved it with his 2 starts, that Paolino was ready to show that he really can pitch, that Chen can continue to defy the odds and pitch like he has the past couple of years, etc.
    And that is why I referenced the Nats.  They made moves this offseason to construct that rotation.  They made a BIG trade (sending away 4 top prospects) to land Gio Gonzalez, and then signed free agent Edwin Jackson.  They saw that their team was close, but not close enough, and they took action to close that gap.  Do they still have holes and weaknesses ?  sure they do, but they grabbed the bull by the horns and did things to improve their team.  And now, they have perhaps the best rotation in MLB.  Without giving away their prized prospect Bryce Harper, perhaps the best prospect in MLB.  You can be aggressive without giving away the farm.
    Did they pay too high a price to land Gio ?  Maybe.  Is Gio better than Hochever, or Sanchez, or Paolino, or Mendoza ?  Absolutely.  Who in this rotation would you rather have over Gio Gonzalez?  For me, its only Duffy.
    Meanwhile, we watch and wait, and hope, and rationalize.  and expect improvement to come from somewhere.