The American League Central appeared to be there for the Royals taking this season. The Chicago White Sox are in a fullblown rebuilding mode. The Minnesota Twins, while they made several moves to improve their rotation, are essentially waiting for their top prospects to arrive before they feel they can truly compete. Both the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians lost significant pieces this offseason. As long as the Royals were able to take care of business in the Central while playing at a reasonable level against the rest of baseball, they appeared to have an excellent chance to end their postseason drought.
While the Royals have been able to play well against non divisional opponents, going 9-3 against the American League East and West, they have not had the same fortune against the Central. After being swept by the Tigers this past weekend, the Royals are just 5-13 against their divisional counterparts. Presently sitting five games out of first, just being a .500 team in division would change the complexion of the Central.
Looking at the Royals record against the individual teams in the Central does not paint a pretty picture. As much as having lost every game against the Tigers this season hurts, they are still a good team and needed two walkoff victories to keep the Royals from the wins column. What is truly painful thus far is a 1-3 record against the last place Indians and a 2-4 record against the Twins. There were supposed to be teams that the Royals should be able to handle.
The Royals issues offensively are magnified when facing the Central. Against the Tigers, Royals hitters have managed a paltry .18/.236/.286 batting line. While they have had to face Justin Verlander twice, the Royals were also incapable of doing anything against Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly, two pitchers that are not about to give opposing hitters nightmares. The Royals have not been much better against the Indians or the Twins either, producing a .239 and a .250 batting average respectively.
Fortunately, it is still early in the season. It is possible that the Royals could go 10-4 against the Tigers the rest of the season and climb out of their early hole. Instead of playing down to their competition in the Central, the Royals could begin to dominate the teams they were expected to have few troubles with at the start of the season. Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer could heat up again as the weather turns warmer. The Royals may even be able to find competence offensively at third base at some point.
However, it is not going to be early forever. The Royals will soon need to start making up ground or be left behind. In a season with so much expected promise, the Royals need to begin to capitalize on a weak division and pull themselves back to the top.