Building a better losing streak
It's time for the Royals to start asking some serious questions about the direction of this franchise.
The Royals won the ninth inning on Thursday in Boston.
With two outs in a scoreless inning, a fielding error opened the door to opportunity and the Royals’ offense would not be denied. Hunter Dozier singled Ryan O’Hearn (who reached on the error) to third. O’Hearn scored when Jarrod Dyson laced a double to right. That was all the Royals needed, a tidy two-out rally to give them the edge in the ninth. The pluck of this offense was on full display, the rally will be spoken of for generations. How can anyone forget this moment in franchise lore?
The ninth inning score was 1-0 in favor of the Royals. A victorious inning. The Red Sox did not bat.
That’s about all the positivity I have to give this morning.
The 15-1 bloodletting at the hands of the Red Sox marks the ninth consecutive loss for the Royals. That, in and of itself is a remarkable achievement. When it’s the second day of July and they’re riding a nine-game losing streak and it’s not even their longest of the season, it is a brutal reminder that this ballclub, allegedly built for respectability, is not so respectable after all. The losing started on the second game of this excursion away from home and continues unabated, each loss feeling more desperate, hopeless. A 15-1 defeat is simply the nadir of this completed road trip. Who knows what lurks at The K this weekend?
June was the cruelest month, particularly the last few days. We saw Emmanuel Rivera get called up and make his major league debut then hit the injured list two days later, a hamate break that will sideline him for four to six weeks. Wade Davis has been ineffective all season and likewise hit the IL. His replacement, Richard Lovelady, took a comebacker to the gut in his return to a major league mound. There’s a metaphor in that one.
Kelvin Guttierez hit .215/.254/.296 over 142 plate appearances, filleted several ground balls like he was a contestant on Top Chef and was DFA’d. So far he’s the only casualty of this stretch of fetid baseball.
Is that it?
It’s a valid question that demands an answer when a team has its sights on contention or respectability or improvement and sails wide of the mark on all three counts. The Royals were lauded this winter…They may not contend in the AL Central, but damnit they’re trying. And now we’re served /looks around at the wreckage of June/ this? Is that what this offseason was all about? Building a better losing streak?
Someone has to take the fall for this debacle, right? A serious team does not have four extended losing streaks before the All-Star break. Nor does it turtle up as we saw on Thursday. Naturally, there are calls for the general manager or the manager to get the boot. My advice to those clamoring for this would be to save your energy. Neither is forthcoming.
In the situation the Royals find themselves in, the finger-pointing usually starts with the coaches, particularly the hitting or the pitching coaches. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, start there. In the just-completed road trip, Royals’ pitchers threw 81.1 innings. The numbers are grim.
55 walks, a 6.1 BB/9.
21 home runs, a 2.3 HR/9.
70 strikeouts, a 7.7 SO/9.
A 7.97 ERA.
Thursday’s capitulation surely inflated a few of the above stats. It doesn’t matter. The pitching as a whole was worth -1.7 fWAR over the last 10 days. Do you know how much awful pitching we’ve watched in the last week and a half? That every Royal who entered the game on Thursday allowed at least one run was simply poetry. No one gets out alive.
This is simply the culmination of a weak pitching staff becoming completely exposed. The Royals are stocked with young pitching talent. They have highly-rated prospects at the upper reaches of the system or already in the majors. They have electric bullpen arms. There will always be a few clunkers like we saw yesterday in a long season. It happens. This year, it’s just become all too frequent.
Questions need to be asked.
Why do these young pitchers seem to go into a stall in their development when they reach the big leagues? Kris Bubic is just another example of how the progress of the pitchers has only gone so far. Baseball America describes Bubic’s changeup as “above average” and a pitch he can command down in the zone. On Thursday, the Red Sox hit three home runs against the change. None were located down.
Here’s where Bubic is currently:
“I just continue to get hurt by the changeup. The curveball’s good, but the changeup…it’s going to be tough going forward if that pitch continues to be like it has, especially the last couple of weeks.”
Bubic’s issues are his own, yet emblematic of the staff as a whole. He’s lost confidence in what is supposed to be a key pitch. He’s struggling. Yet it feels like he’s on his own. A prospect adrift. Good luck in finding that changeup and that confidence, young man. The pitching coach doesn’t seem to have a clue. What is a pitching coach good for if he can’t diagnose and correct an issue? What good is a coach if he can’t instill confidence in a young player? Is Cal Eldred the man to lead this staff out of this? Especially when it seems like he’s the guy who got them there.
Yes, questions need to be asked.
Changing a pitching or a hitting coach so often feels like shuffling the deck chairs. There may be some benefit, but the issues that are plaguing an underperforming team usually run deeper than a new coach can overcome. And let’s be serious, a midseason change of any kind is not in Dayton Moore’s modus operandi. This is a general manager who preaches patience, who asks for you to trust the process. He hires people because he believes in them. He’s not going to make a change unless he’s backed against the wall and it’s literally his only option. Is he there yet? I don’t think so.
Think back to when the Royals fired hitting coaches Andre David and David Maloof in May of 2013. That was when the Royals were in their third season of the Hosmer/Moustakas/Perez/Cain core. They were collectively underachieving. It came at a pivotal point in their major league careers. Moore felt he had no choice, the first wave of prospects was slipping away, he had to send a message to his young hitters.
Today, the Royals have filled their prospect pipeline with pitching. But with just two of the young starting prospects in the majors at this moment and with Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar back in Triple-A, it’s not a comparable point in both their individual trajectories and that of the franchise. This is not to say Eldred is safe from the ax. He has to be aware the blade is hovering close by. But the Royals just don’t make changes in midseason unless they absolutely feel it’s necessary. While you’re reading this and thinking of their starter’s ERA of 5.41 and the entire staff’s 4.2 BB/9 and yelling, “IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE!” it’s likely you’re only screaming into the void.
The stakes are simply too high for this franchise. They’ve gambled on pitching prospects. It’s a good gamble, a smart one…but only if they have the right personnel in the right places to bring those prospects along. Why were they successful in their first couple of years in the organization? Why are they struggling now? Why does it feel like the entire major league staff forgot how to throw strikes? To sequence pitches? To get batters out?
So many questions. There’s still time to turn this around. No, not for this season. This season is lost. I’m writing about the future. The arms that this team is attempting to build around. Pitching prospects are a risky business and the Royals hedged that bet by assembling them in quantity. But what good is quantity if not a single one can take a positive step forward in the majors?
Questions must be asked.
Salvy is an All-Star
MLB announced their 2021 All-Star teams on Thursday night and it wasn’t a surprise to learn that Salvador Perez was selected as the starting catcher for the American League. It’s will be his sixth start and seventh selection overall.
It’s a much-deserved selection. He’s having a fantastic offensive season and is throwing out 39 percent of would-be base stealers from behind the dish.
Perez’s seven All-Star nods are second-most in franchise history to George Brett’s 13.
Twins 5, White Sox 8
The White Sox polished off the Twins, sweeping them in a three-game series in Chicago.
Astros 7, Cleveland 2
Astro batters clubbed three home runs, but it was a Jose Altuve grand slam that gave Houston the lead they would not relinquish.
The Royals return to Kansas City to face those Twins in a battle for the AL Central cellar. Brady Singer will take the mound for the hometown nine while Minnesota counters with JA Happ. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT. Watch if you dare.