This was to be the Royals year. Fans and prognosticators alike believed that the American League Central was going to be wide open, and possibly there for the Royals to take. Instead, approximately a quarter of the way through the 2014 season, the Royals find themselves at 19-19, five and a half games behind the Detroit Tigers, second in the Central.
While seeing the Royals in such a deficit could be considered disappointing, things could be much worse. The Royals offense, which was predicated upon the concepts of putting the ball in play and wreaking havoc upon the basepaths, has yet to consistently come to fruition. While the Royals have a solid batting average and have been getting on base, they have seemingly had an uncanny knack for hitting into double plays. Their utter lack of power has been at a level that even deadball era teams could shake their heads in disgust at, culminating in a team that 24th in OPS at .671 and is dead last in home runs with 16. In fact, the next to last team, the New York Mets, has 22 on the season.
The Royals leading home run hitter on the season, Mike Moustakas, has been rumored to be demoted to AAA. Nori Aoki has not hit on the road. Billy Butler has not hit at all, but is starting to heat back up. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Butler have combined for a total of three home runs, which is one less than Moustakas has on the year.
Yet, for that lack of offense and power, the Royals have been able to remain around .500 on the strength of their pitching. The starting rotation was expected to slip this season, as Ervin Santana was replaced by Jason Vargas, yet the Royals rotation has barely missed a step. Despite the struggles of Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie pitching to the score at all times, the Royals rank 12th in baseball in ERA. Yordano Ventura has been a revelation thus far, and looks like he could be a lock for the Rookie of the Year award. Vargas has been better than anticipated, and James Shields is still the same James Shields as ever.
The bullpen, for all their issues at the start of the year, is finally starting to round into shape. Greg Holland is starting to pitch like the dominant force of 2013. Wade Davis has found his role for the Royals, typically pitching well in the eighth inning and striking out hitters at an astronomical 16.62 per nine innings. Aaron Crow, for his issues in keeping inherited runners from scoring, has yet to allow an earned run of his own. Once Tim Collins returns, the Royals bullpen could get back to close to what they were last year.
For all the problems that the Royals have had thus far, the beginning of the season has managed to keep from being a complete disaster. Once the bullpen gets all of it’s pieces back, and should the offense start to resemble the offenses of the 1980′s that it appears to have been patterned after, the Royals could find themselves capable of making a run as they head towards the All-Star Break.
Right now, the Royals season is worthy of a B-. While the Royals have struggled at times this season, there is still a lot more of the season to go.