The KC Royals are enjoying good pitching this season. The offense is a different story. The bats need to be heard now.
The KC Royals host Minnesota tonight in the first of three weekend games that, barring an improbable rematch in the American League playoffs, will be the last the clubs play against each other this season. The Royals will throw their much improved pitching at the Twins, but the tune of Kansas City’s offense must change.
This is a team that struggles to score. Only one club (Texas) scores fewer than the Royals’ 3.88 runs per game. The urgent need for more runs was evident again Wednesday when Kansas City squeezed only four into their doubleheader split with Cincinnati; unfortunately, they exhausted that supply in winning the opener 4-0 before losing the nightcap 5-0.
The KC Royals won the first game primarily because Brad Keller pitched 6.2 scoreless innings and didn’t surrender a hit until the sixth; the Royals scored all but one of their runs in the first, which may not have been enough if not for Keller.
That the Royals faced Trevor Bauer for the entirety of the second game had much to do with KC’s loss–he gave up only one hit, and his shutout reduced his ERA to 0.68 and gave him a perfect 3-0 record.
But Kansas City’s failure to hit when it counts isn’t limited to such well-pitched games. It’s the main reason the club is 10-15. Night after night, the story changes little; the result is too often the same. The Royals have been shutout three times and average 2.2 runs per loss; disregard the 14 and 13-run anomalies of their two most productive wins, and they’re averaging a shade over 4.5 runs in their other eight victories. So that 3.88 average over 25 games isn’t surprising.
Only three American League teams, and eight big league clubs overall, have scored less frequently than the KC Royals.
Every run a major league team plates is tied to a batter; even runs scored on wild pitches don’t happen without a batter to pitch to, and runs off errors aren’t made without batted balls. The Royals’ failure to produce runs is a collective flaw but, with the possible exceptions of Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez, the sources are traceable to almost everyone in the lineup.
Merrifield’s 29 hits ranked, as Thursday began, 16th in the majors, making it unlikely he’ll lead the big leagues in that category for a third straight season. But he’s hitting .302 and a blistering .467 with runners in scoring position (RISP).
Perez is a better Perez this season, pairing an improved ability to get base hits with his customary power. He’s slashing .307/.326/.511 with a 125 OPS+ and a .267 average with RISP. He’s fighting a vision issue that will clear at some point, but how soon remains unknown. The void is palpable.
Adalberto Mondesi’s season-long struggle continues. Although he went 2-for-5 in Wednesday’s twinbill, he’s hitting only .227, an unacceptable level for such a talented player, especially if it’s sustained much longer. Mondesi stealing bases is a key for the KC Royals, but he can’t steal enough if he can’t get on base enough.
Despite a bout with COVID-19, Ryan O’Hearn has played all but seven games. His .245 average is markedly higher than last season’s .195, but he hasn’t homered yet, and homers are expected from corner infielders. Mondesi, another Royal with natural power, also has yet to homer.
The hitting maladies that badly marred three of Alex Gordon’s last four seasons appear to be back. He went 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s first game, didn’t see the field in the second, and enters this weekend slashing.174/.250/.290. His OPS+ has plunged to 48. He did have three hits in one game and a home run in two others, but those were glimpses of his fading best.
Five players critical to the club’s success are unreliable with runners in scoring position: Mondesi is averaging .091, Dozier .125, Jorge Soler .154, Gordon .158, and Lopez .214. The numbers speak for themselves. If they don’t go up, the Royals will go down.
Some will blame manager Mike Matheny for not finding a productive batting order, but that’s a hard thing to do when so few are hitting consistently. Others will cast doubt on the performance of hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and call for his dismissal. Some will demand that Gordon be benched, traded, or released, but his fate is unlikely to be determined until after the season.
Still, others will blame the umpires’ curious calling of balls and strikes, but their inconsistency, seemingly more severe this season, runs rampant through both leagues. The cure some fans believe Bobby Witt Jr. to be is at least a year away.
The Royals, though, have no one to blame but themselves. They simply need to break out of their funk and hit when it matters most. The Twins present them with the chance to do just that this weekend–Minnesota is the only team against whom the Royals have a winning record (4-3), one of three teams they’ve outscored, and a club they averaged 5.33 runs per game against when they swept three games from them earlier this month.
The time is now.
Pitching is the KC Royals’ strength this season and the main reason their record is no worse than 10-15. It’s time for the offense to shoulder its load.