KC Royals: With 60 games in, what’s really changed?

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Some of the faces have changed. Alex Gordon retired last September, and Andrew Benintendi now patrols left field for the KC Royals. Michael A. Taylor is Kansas City’s everyday center fielder. Carols Santana plays reliably at first base, Mike Minor returned and is part of the rotation, and rookie Jake Brentz helps lead the bullpen.

But after 60 games—the entire length of last season—and despite a winter spent adding pieces, the 2021 Royals bear a striking resemblance to the 2020 club. After Wednesday’s loss to the Angels, the Royals are 29-31, a record not significantly different from 2020’s 26-34. And that KC is in third place in the American League Central, one spot better than they finished last year, isn’t compelling evidence of improvement with102 games left.

Mathematically and otherwise, these Royals haven’t changed. Not that much.

Like 2020, starting pitching remains a trouble spot for the 2021 KC Royals.

Inconsistency, traceable in varying degrees to inexperience (Brady Singer and Kris Bubic pitched at times like the rookies they were), COVID-19 (Brad Keller and Jakob Junis missed time following positive tests), and ineffectiveness (the Matt Harvey experiment failed), plagued Kansas City in 2020. This season isn’t any different—save for Danny Duffy before injury shelved him indefinitely last month, no one quite knows what to expect from the starters.

Keller is 6-5 despite a 5.75 ERA that reflects his tendency to run hot and cold within most of his starts. Singer lost his first two starts, won his fourth, lost his fifth, went three games without a decision, and has two victories and two losses in his last four starts. Bubic broke back into the rotation late last month and gave up only one run in his first start, then three in 4.1 innings in his second, and was battered for six Tuesday against the Angels.

Minor is improving but has surrendered at least four runs in half his 12 starts. Los Angeles shelled Jackson Kowar in his big league debut Monday, and three bad starts forced Daniel Lynch back to the minors.

The bullpen has been KC’s brightest spot. But even that isn’t any different than last year.

The KC Royals’ offense also hasn’t changed much since the 2020 campaign.

Blame a frequently ineffective offense for much of Kansas City’s difficulty this season. The team still doesn’t score enough.

Entering tonight’s game with Oakland, the Royals are averaging 4.3 runs per game, an almost meaningless increase of .17 a game over 2020. This season’s output is almost half a run less than their opponents’ and 2021’s run differential is worse: -13 compared to -8.

The club’s 2021 line—.240/.305/.385—is actually worse than last season’s .244/.309/.402, and the Royals have 15 fewer hits, 13 fewer doubles, and 11 fewer home runs than in 2020. Only in triples does this year’s club have more than last season’s.

Not until Jorge Soler (.176/.270/.321) and Hunter Dozier (.156/.231/.364) heat up, and Adalberto Mondesi returns from his second trip to the Injured List, will Kansas City’s offense improve much. Salvador Perez (14 home runs, 40 RBIs, .278), Carlos Santana (10 homers, 36 RBIs), Andrew Benintendi (.284/.342/.412) and Whit Merrifield (.268, 36 RBIs and a major-league leading 17 stolen bases) can’t carry the load for over 100 more games.

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The KC Royals have completed a little over one-third of the 2021 season. So far, this campaign isn’t much different than the last.