The Royals have officially reached the maddening stage with me. They had a nice road trip last week, winning four of seven games. With one exception, they continued to get solid pitching from the starters. Those guys just can not hit, though.
As Joe Posnanski and others have written about many times, what is especially infuriating is that this franchise hasn’t hit since the Golden Era. It doesn’t make sense. Yes, Kauffman Stadium is not a great home run park. But the Royals haven’t hit home runs on the road since pretty much forever, too. And when road teams come into the K, they still find a way to clear the fences, even if at lower rates than in their home parks.
It’s as though every Royals general and field manager since the artificial turf was ripped out doesn’t realize that slapping the ball and letting it bounce around doesn’t work anymore.
The problem isn’t just the lack of home runs, though. This organization has always had a horrific approach at the plate. Even the franchise’s greatest players were loathe to take a walk. When Tony Muser was managing the promising group of young hitters around the Millennium, he famously told them to jump on the first pitch they saw because they might not see another ball to hit in their at bat.
Tony’s been gone for a long time, but the Royals still hack as though he’s in the dugout.
Two weeks ago the Detroit Tigers retired six straight Royals on ten total pitches. Early in Sunday’s game in Seattle, Royals pitchers had thrown at least ten innings of 15 or more pitches in the series. Seattle pitchers? Zero 10+ pitch innings.
Even Eric Hosmer, who seems to be the only guy who can consistently hit, will come out of his shoes at the first pitch in an AB if it’s anywhere near the plate.
It’s infuriating to watch a rally die because two straight hitters try to jump all over the first pitch and pop it up on the infield.
The most common thing I say while watching the Royals?
“TAKE A FUCKING PITCH!”
So the Royals can’t hit home runs. They don’t work the count. Guys like Alex Gordon, Sal Perez, and Billy Butler will hit for a week or ten days and then fall into a deep slump. Mike Moustakas, who was supposed to be the power at the center of the lineup, can’t hit his weight, let alone live up to his hype, and is likely headed back to Omaha today. Hosmer is the only home-grown hitting talent who shows any consistency, and I’m beginning to believe that’s in spite of his approach at the plate rather than because of his terrific talent.
The Royals off-season moves have mostly worked out for the best. Omar Infante, when he can stay healthy, provides fine defense at second and a good bat at the top of the order. Nori Aoki has struggled at times with the transition to the American League, and his defense is the weakest on the team. But in general he’s been solid. Jason Vargas has surprised being terrific in most of his starts. And Alcides Escobar rediscovered his stroke from two years ago and is again playing Gold Glove caliber shortstop.
But the Royals are a game under .500 with just three weeks left in the soft early portion of their schedule. When the calendar turns to June, suddenly they begin playing much better teams more often. Maybe the warmer air will help balls carry at the K and some of those line drives will sail over the fence. And maybe those shots will build confidence in Gordon, Butler, and Perez and the bats begin to give the arms some support.
These are the Kansas City Royals, though. Putting your faith in being smart at the plate and getting on base and scoring runs every night is bound to leave you disappointed.