We’ve heard it for years, the Royals will be good in 2012, 2013, 2014. Well it’s 2012, and I believe the time is now for this group of talented prospects to start performing and compete in what has become a winnable division.
A difficult start, surrounded by a 12-game losing streak, seems to have halted the Royals progress for 2012, which many thought could be a year they established themselves as the second-best team in the American League Central behind the Detroit Tigers.
Since that 12-game losing streak, the Royals have gone 20-15 to dig themselves out of the basement of the AL Central, are within seven games of the Chicago White Sox and only one game behind the struggling Tigers.
A lot of blame for their early problems offensively can be put on first baseman Eric Hosmer’s slow start. After a great rookie campaign, it was expected Hosmer would breakout in 2012 and lead the Royals to a winning season. Despite putting the ball in play frequently, Hosmer was unable to find gaps and saw his average dip as far down as .172 on May 20.
Since moving down in the batting order, he’s gone 16-for-52 (.308) with five runs, eight RBIs and two home runs and the Royals are 8-5 in that stretch. On the year, he’s walked 17 times and struck out only 26 times. We knew it was only a matter of time before all those balls started sneaking through, but the Royals could still use some more power from the big first baseman who has only hit seven home runs this season.
Hosmer isn’t the only player to blame for the Royals’ offensive struggles. Alex Gordon hasn’t been able to build on last season’s breakout year and is still only hitting .244 with 48 strikeouts. However, he does lead the team in runs, doubles and walks.
As a team, the Royals rank eighth in batting average but are 25th in runs scored, which indicates they aren’t bringing runners in once they get on. But oddly enough, they’re batting a respectable .267 with runners on base and .257 with runners in scoring position, which makes the offensive problems a bit complicated to figure out.
The pitching hasn’t fared much better and has been inconstant all season. They’ve only managed double-digit starts from two pitchers, which means they’ve suffered injuries and poor performances.
Bruce Chen has been the teams’ most reliable starter all year, but up-and-down performances have led to a 4.86 ERA. The frustration of the Luke Hochevar project may be coming to an end as the former first-round pick has a 6.63 ERA in 11 starts this year. Offseason acquisition Jonathan Sanchez wasn’t much better before he landed on the disabled list registering a 6.75 ERA in his first six starts.
Felipe Paulino has filled in as a starter lately and been magnificent. In six starts he’s 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA. He’s struck out 39 in 37 innings pitched and walked 15. But the deepest he’s gone in a game thus far is seven innings, as he tends to garner a high pitch count rather easily.
Other than that, the Royals have spread starts out amongst an assortment of spot starters and young guys. Overall, their starters have an ERA of 5.05, which is 27th best in the league.
Kansas City’s relief pitching may be the only bright spot of the team so far, posting a 2.97 ERA, which is seventh best in the league. That group has been led by veteran Jonathan Broxton who has a 1.66 ERA to go along with 13 saves.
But the highlight of the bullpen has been the 5’-7” left-hander Tim Collins. The reliever has struck out 41 batters in 27.1 innings and walked only seven with a 2.30 ERA. He’s thrown more than one inning 12 times and worked two innings or more four times.
Of course, I should mention Billy Butler has been a solid producer for this club, as you might imagine. He leads the team in home runs, RBIs, OBP and hits. Alcides Escobar has also been a nice surprise, currently leading the team in batting average at .298.
I wish I could be more optimistic about this team, because I think most fans root for the success of this franchise, but the future does not look as bright as it did a few years ago. A couple of their pitching prospects have not turned out to be as good as expected.
I thought the offense would be good enough to keep them in it this year, and if Hosmer and Gordon get going it could be, but up to this point it’s been far too inconsistent.
Realistically, they’re not out of this AL Central race, but it’s mainly because the competition ahead of them hasn’t overly impressed anybody. The pieces are there to compete, but players need to start living up to their billing if this team is going to win a the divison, much less the World Series, anytime soon.