Oh dear. Those old feelings are coming back. Blown leads, no runs and injuries – who thought just two years ago they would actually be saying the words, “I really miss Luke Hochevar?” If you raise your hand you are a liar.
Eight games in, and we as fans are already experiencing some familiar frustrations from the team that is Lorde’s inspiration. Mike Moustakas has one hit all year, as a team they only have one home run, and in fall-back-to-earth fashion, the bullpen can’t stop themselves from surrendering runs. One would certainly hope that Moose picks it up and batted balls manage to clear the fence from time to time. But the consistent struggles of the bullpen is the most troubling thing of this young season.
The relief pitchers have discovered a knack for allowing runs in the worst possible moments. From Aaron Crow, who was credited with the blown save on opening day after James Shields had pitched a gem, to recently DL’d Tim Collins, who can’t get a man out to save his life; he has surrendered four runs on two hits and four walks in only one inning pitched. As a group, they have allowed 12 runs on 19 hits in 18 and 2/3 innings, with a pathetic 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio and a 5.79 ERA.
On the flip side, the starting pitching cannot possibly perform better as a group. In a combined 53 and 1/3 innings, they have allowed 12 runs on 39 hits, with a 4.6 strikeout to walk ratio and a 2.03 ERA. Wow. Yordano Ventura has only made one start but it’s clear that he may very well be the best pitcher in the rotation this year, and when you consider the performances of Shields and new signee Jason Vargas, that is saying a lot. The bullpen and starting rotation are clear reasons why the Royals won’t, and will, make the playoffs. But there are still 154 more games to go, things can turn around for the bullpen.
It won’t happen, however, if Ned Yost continues to manage the way he does. His continued over-reliance on Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow will be the demise of this team. Quite honestly, everything Yost does could turn out to be the demise. More troubling than his in-game decisions are his explanations behind them. Time and time again Yost’s explanations for the moves he makes during a game have left reporters and fans alike scratching their heads. When something goes wrong, the manager gets the blame. When something goes right everyone but the manager gets the credit. It’s a tough job. But Yost seems rather disillusioned on how to successfully put together a lineup and making in-game decisions. How could you possibly justify the mindset of not pinch-hitting Alcides Escobar in the eight, but planning on pinch-hitting for him in the ninth inning? He takes starters out too early, leaves relievers in too long, and pinch-runs for Salvador Perez in a tie game with no outs in the eighth inning. The Royals couldn’t get a hit, the game stayed tied, and we suddenly found ourselves in extra innings without our best player. Yost’s inability to think farther than an inch in front of his nose has already cost the team a couple of games this year. If the Royals are under .500 come June 1st, I would not just expect, but hope for a change in command.
“Well,” you might be saying, “if you think it’s so easy why don’t you do it?” I could, and I will.
First, I’ve been saying it since last year, hit Moustakas third. Bookend him with Eric Hosmer in the two-hole, and Salvy hitting cleanup, and Moose will see more fastballs than he knows what to do with. He’ll get himself a few hits and his confidence will skyrocket. It’s puzzling as to how he tore the cover off the ball in the spring, but can’t hit a beach ball with a tennis racket once the season starts. Plus, putting Omar Infante, once he returns from that gruesome injury, in the eight spot as someone to rely on to keep the inning going with a two-out hit would be a nice luxury.
Second, for the love of everything holy, get rid of Collins and Herrera. They can’t hold leads, we can’t rely on them in close game situations, and they are way too predictable. There are guys pitching for Omaha and Northwest Arkansas that we should give chances to, such as Danny Duffy, Donnie Joseph, or Louis Coleman, all of whom have major league experience. They can’t just appear for an inning in a 7-1 game and then promptly be sent back down. They need real chances to show how good they are. Frankly, there’s nowhere to go but up when discussing Collins and Herrera.
Third, give Johnny Giavotella the starting job for at least the next seven games. Give him regular at-bats and regular fielding work. He has already shown himself to have a vacuum for a glove, but needs work at the plate. There are two things that will happen here: one, he doesn’t do so well, and we send him back down, which everyone and their mother knows we’re going to do anyway, or two, he does really well, and increases his value so we can trade him for a solid bullpen arm. With guys like Infante, Escobar, plus Christian Colon and Hunter Dozier waiting in the wings, the team has a surplus of competent infielders at the helm, and consequently are much more in need of a reliable reliever.
One last thought, correlating to the “thinking an inch in front of your nose” philosophy: Bruce Chen will wear down eventually. He will be dynamite more often than not until the All-Star Break, maybe. But someone better be ready to go to take over that fifth spot in the rotation, because as we’ve seen the last couple of years, he loses his effectiveness at about the 15-20 start mark, and is relegated to bullpen duty. Not that I mind, he is very effective as a reliever, but we need to have a “sixth” starter who is ready to take his spot if we’re in a playoff race come August. I sincerely hope Danny Duffy can oblige.
The season is young, so there’s no reason to act like a bear is loose in the Coliseum. The Royals have shown flashes of a playoff-caliber team in these first eight games, but there are certainly a couple of things to keep an eye on. With so many people’s jobs on the line, they can’t wait too long to make necessary changes if they want to keep said jobs.