I remember thinking about how the Royals might go about winning games with such a terrible starting rotation before the season began. It’s hard to win when you can’t pitch, and it looked like for a majority of their innings they’d be getting bad pitching. I thought then that with such a good offensive lineup they would need to win a significant number of high scoring games—6-5, 8-6 and so on.
Right now, the Royals are 23-30, not good, but not out of the realm of where most people thought they should be—especially considering the 12-game losing streak. But when I reflect on how they’ve won those games, the high-scoring battles aren’t ringing any bells. Why? Because they haven’t won any.
That’s really not fair; they have won one. Yes, one. The Royals record when their opponent scores 5 runs or more is 1-20. That’s not very good for a team whose lineup was suppose to carry them.
Now, obviously, the offense hasn’t produced as expected. They’ve scored 214 runs all season, that’s 4.03 runs per game. Eric Hosmer has been a shell of himself, though he’s shown some signs of life lately. Alex Gordon struggled early and is starting to turn it around. Jeff Francoeur also struggled early. The Royals also had an abysmal time hitting with runners in scoring position (though their overall team batting average is good enough for ninth in MLB, another piece of evidence to support the notion that BA isn’t everything).
The offense has been weaker than expected, but that alone doesn’t tell the story either. In Saturday’s loss to Oakland, the Royals got down early thanks to another Luke Hochevar-like effort by Luke Hochevar. They were down 6-1 after the fourth inning. I’ve heard players on this team say they have the fire power to come back from deficits like this, which is good because they’re going to have plenty of them.
It all fell apart though after the Royals scored two runs to make it a game at 6-3. At that point, it looked like they might actually mount a comeback, but they couldn’t make those 1-run innings 3-run innings. Then, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, and some really terrible defense gave us a glimpse of Royals teams past, and it was over 9-3.
As those of you who watch baseball know, the game is played in context. Different elements of each game impact other elements of that game. Think about the rally-killing sac-bunt Ned Yost called for in the fourth inning tonight. That had huge ramifications throughout the game. That took a potential 5 or 6-run inning and made it a 3-run inning. If Yost had been thinking about how his team would probably need many more runs to win that game, he probably wouldn’t have called for a sac-bunt.
So, the issue isn’t that the Royals aren’t scoring a lot of runs—they’re not—but that they aren’t scoring a lot of runs when they need to. This isn’t necessarily a solvable problem, but it’s not necessarily something to be written off as unsolvable either. People would be very wrong in tossing this issue aside by saying Well they can’t control when the runs come. They come when they come. Not true.
Managers have a pretty good idea of when they’re going to have to play for 7 or 8 runs (anytime Will Smith is pitching for example). Maybe that means fewer sacrifice bunts or playing more offensive players on a given day. Maybe it means running less to wait for extra base hits, knowing that a stolen run won’t do much for you. Maybe it means keeping spirits high when the team is down by the third inning.
For players, this issue seems more psychological. Last season, when the team was 8-20 through 53 games when opponents scored 5 or more runs, it felt like they were in every game—even when they were down 5 runs. The same sort of “overcoming all odds” mentality is lacking this season. Maybe it’s because some players have struggled at the plate, and they feel less confident about their ability to recapture a lead. I’m not sure. But it just doesn’t feel the same.
Obviously, a team is going to lose more games than not when it gives up at least 5 runs. But for this very unique team, they have to win more high scoring games than they are currently. They have to feel comfortable playing from behind. With a bad rotation, that’s going to happen a lot. Yost needs to make decisions with this in mind. His mentality with virtually every starter, except maybe Bruce Chen and Felipe Paulino, needs to be one that focuses on getting into the other teams bullpen early and playing for big innings. Otherwise, this team will not flirt with .500 this season like they should.