Finale could be game of ‘lasts’ for the KC Royals

(Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports) /

Late Tuesday night in Seattle, long after the KC Royals lost for the 96th time this season, the Mariners finished off a doubleheader sweep of Detroit. The Tigers losing twice narrowed to one game the gap between them and last place Kansas City.

So it is that this afternoon’s season finale against Cleveland at Progressive Field carries no special significance for the Royals. Win or lose, and regardless of what the Tigers do, Kansas City will finish last; it will be of no particular solace that they might, just might, share that dishonor with another club. But Detroit must lose, and the Royals win, for that to happen.

Kansas City will play this one and be done for the year. There will be no more games until Cactus League exhibition games begin Feb. 24, and none “for real” before the Royals open the 2023 campaign March 30 by hosting Minnesota.

But that nothing is at stake for KC this afternoon doesn’t mean the contest, scheduled for 3:10 p.m. CDT, won’t hold at least some interest.

It may well be a game of “lasts.”

Today may be the last KC Royals game for Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred.

The futures of manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred don’t hinge on who wins or loses today. No announcements have been made, no news leaked, but it’s hard to imagine J.J. Picollo, who’s been running the baseball side of the business for two weeks, hasn’t already determined their fates. One game won’t make any difference.

Although Matheny led the Royals through the uniquely difficult and short 2020 season, and they won more games (74) last year than they had since 2017 (80), their regression this season was painful, perhaps even inexcusable. The club did nothing well consistently and Matheny too often played drastically underperforming veterans at the expense of younger players who represent the team’s future.

As for Eldred, pitching improvement hasn’t been the hallmark of his five years as pitching coach; with few exceptions, the most notable being starter Brady Singer and reliever Scott Barlow, hurlers didn’t get better on his watch. And he presided this year over one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.

That Matheny and Eldred haven’t accomplished what they needed to states the obvious, as does declaring change a must. Expect Kansas City’s season finale to be the last game for Matheny and Eldred.

Will today’s contest be the last for Zack Greinke in a KC Royals uniform?

Because he started and threw six innings Monday night, Zack Greinke won’t leave the dugout this afternoon; nothing about the game will require his deployment. And because the deal he signed in March to reunite with Kansas City is for one year only, he’ll be a free agent the day after the World Series ends. What he’ll do—return, retest the market, or retire—is anyone’s guess.

The Royals, by all accounts, appear eager for Greinke to re-up, not only because he can still pitch, but also because he’s been a solid tutor of the team’s far more inexperienced hurlers.

But will he give the club another year? Time will tell—hopefully not too much time—whether Greinke will be back.

Michael A. Taylor may be suiting up for the last time for the KC Royals.

Michael A. Taylor, the traditionally light-hitting center fielder who came to the Royals two winters ago and so impressed them that they inked him to a new two-year contract before last season concluded, might be on the way out.

With the emphasis on might.

Taylor, who won his first Gold Glove in his first year with the Royals, is still fielding well and, hitting .254 entering today, is on the verge of posting the second-best average of his career (he hit .271 in 2017 and .250 two seasons later).

But the squeeze may be on. Kansas City’s stable of good young outfielders—especially Drew Waters, who seems a lock for next year’s roster—may put the Royals in a position to trade Taylor this winter. Such a move makes sense: because 2023 will be his contract year, Taylor is bound to be dealt before or at the trade deadline, but offseason swaps generally reap more major league-ready talent than midsummer trades.

So, don’t be surprised if Taylor appears in his last game as a Royal today.

Ryan O’Hearn is surely playing his last game for the KC Royals … isn’t he?

Assuming Ryan O’Hearn sees action today, which is a good bet with Mike Matheny managing, it should be his last as a Royal. He doesn’t have a position, takes at-bats away from better players when Matheny starts him, and his pinch-hitting ability, while excellent this season, doesn’t warrant a roster spot. Perhaps it would if Kansas City was a contender, but it isn’t.

The time for the club to cut ties with O’Hearn, whose 2018 rookie season was his only good one, has come and still remains. Today’s contest should be his last with this franchise.

Will it be? The Royals have displayed an unusual and unwavering commitment to O’Hearn, a player who’s hit .195 twice and has a .219 five-season career average.

We shall see.

Next. These 3 Royals should be on the bubble. dark

Kansas City fans may see a few things for the last time when the club wraps up its season today.