What went wrong: Kansas City Royals

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The following is the latest in a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments:

Two weeks ago: Cleveland Indians

Last week: Cincinnati Reds

This Week: Kansas City Royals

Record: 60-87 (5th in AL Central)

How It Happened:

It
seems like forever ago, but the Royals sat atop the AL Central on May 7
with an 18-11 record. In the midst of a six-game winning streak, ace
Zack Greinke graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in an article by
Joe Posnanski
that proclaimed he was “The Best Pitcher in Baseball.”
That might be true, but it wasn’t long before it all came crashing down
for the Royals. They haven’t seen the .500 mark since May 22 (21-21).
In fact, since May 22, the Royals are 39-66.

A
lot went wrong with the Royals this season, but that shouldn’t surprise
you. Alex Gordon went down in mid-April with hip surgery. He struggled
upon his return to the majors in July, and the club decided to demote
him in August. Though they said the demotion was performance-based, the
dirty little secret is that the move delayed his free agency until
after the 2013 season. Managing just a lousy .215/.324/.347 line with
four homers and 13 RBI, 2009 marked another lost season for the former
first-round pick.

Limited to just 81
games, Jose Guillen hit just .242/.314/.367 with nine homers and 40
RBI. Counted on to be a mainstay of the Royals’ offense, Guillen got
off to a late start due to a sore right groin. Then he missed six weeks
with a torn ligament in his right knee. And just recently, completing
the trifecta, Guillen was grounded for the rest of the season with a
strained right hamstring. Good thing the Royals still owe him $12
million for 2010.

If the
above two examples didn’t show it, the Royals have struggled for
offense, ranking in the bottom three in the league in batting average,
runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and home
runs. The pitching hasn’t been much better, ranking third-worst with a
4.66 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP – and that’s with Greinke. No other qualified
starting pitcher on the Royals staff has more than eight wins (Kyle
Davies) or an ERA under 4.00 (Brian Bannister – 4.73).

And
then there was the trade. You know what I’m talking about. On July 3,
the Royals acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners in exchange
for Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes (No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball
America). The move brought on a firestorm of criticism for general
manager Dayton Moore, who then committed a cardinal baseball sin by
saying, “The defensive statistics – I still really don’t understand how
some of those statistics are evaluated, I really don’t. When you watch
baseball games every single day, its very apparent who can play
defensively and who can’t.” Ugh.

Silver Linings:

Though
Royals fans suffered through their sixth straight losing season, they
were fortunate enough to witness one of the most dominant individual
seasons in recent memory. Through his first 30 starts this season, Zach
Greinke is 14-8 with a 2.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 224/44 K/BB ratio in 210
1/3 innings. Greinke is second in the league with 25 quality starts.
There’s been a lot of talk about if Greinke will lose out on the Cy
Young because he has only 14 wins, but realize that he ranks 123rd
among American League starters in run support (4.71) – 100 IP mininum.
Only two other starters (Tim Redding and Justin Masterson) have
received less.

The Royals may
not have gotten much return out of their 2005 first-round pick
(Gordon), but Billy Butler has emerged as a legitimate
middle-of-the-order threat. The 23-year-old first baseman is batting
.301/.358/.482 with 17 homers and 82 RBI. Butler ranks ninth in the
league with 65 extra-base hits.

Long
known as a guy who couldn’t find the strike zone, Robinson Tejada has
surfaced as a candidate for the starting rotation in 2010. His overall
line — 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.42 K/9 — is impressive enough, but
he has allowed just one run over his first three starts since being
moved to the rotation.

Looking Ahead:

The
same cast of characters will be back for at least next season, with
manager Trey Hillman assured of a job, and Moore given a contract
extension through 2014.

The
Royals have about $58 million in contract commitments for 2010
including $12 million for Guillen, $12 million for Gil Meche and $4.5
million for Kyle Farnsworth. They could elect to bring back Coco Crisp
for $8 million or Miguel Olivo (leads the team with 22 home runs) for
$3 million.

The Royals will not
be a contender in 2010, and they shouldn’t pretend to be, either. They
need to stop jerking Gordon around. And as our own Matthew Pouliot
suggested earlier this month, the Royals need to promote on-base
machine Kila Ka’aihue to be the team’s designated hitter.

Finally,
if the Royals aren’t going to consider moving Joakim Soria to the
rotation, they should trade him. He’s being wasted in the bullpen right
now. If Soria could complement Greinke alongside a high-risk,
high-reward guy like Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard and a fine rebound
candidate in Meche, they could have the groundwork for a long-term
competitive ballclub. And if they trade him, they would be able to plug
a few holes in a roster that resembles small-market swiss cheese.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 10, Rangers 5: This one was a barnburner, featuring eight home runs combined from both teams. Gleyber Torres hit two, both off of Bartolo Colon, who is more than twice his age. Torres is the second-youngest Yankee to have a multi-homer game. Aaron Judge, Neil Walker, and Aaron Hicks also contributed dingers for the Yankees. Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, and Ronald Guzman went deep for the Rangers. Masahiro Tanaka‘s ERA goes up to 4.95 after serving up four runs in five innings. Despite that, the Yankees improve to 31-13, good for the best record in baseball.

Phillies 3, Braves 0: Nick Pivetta was brilliant, spinning seven shutout frames with seven strikeouts, limiting the Braves to four hits and a walk. Seranthony Dominguez pitched an impressive eighth and Hector Neris closed it out 1-2-3 in the ninth. Catcher Jorge Alfaro was the star of this game, throwing out Johan Camargo attempting to steal and making an absolute laser throw to first base for the final out of the game. He should’ve also had a caught-stealing on Freddie Freeman, but shortstop Scott Kingery didn’t handle the ball well. The Phillies got homers from Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. Odubel Herrera, by the way, somehow got a hit on this pitch:

Mets 2, Marlins 0: Jason Vargas finally put together a good start for the Mets, tossing five scoreless frames. The Marlins only scraped out a hit and two walks while striking out seven times against him. The Mets, who started this month off with a six-game losing streak, have now won four in a row. The Marlins have lost four in a row; Monday’s was on the heels of Sunday’s absolute mess of a loss.

Nationals 10, Padres 2: The Nationals powered out four home runs, including Juan Soto’s first major league dinger. Mark Reynolds went deep twice and Bryce Harper went deep for his 14th homer of the year. Gio Gonzalez limited the Padres to a pair of runs on two hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 2: The Brewers were powered by the long ball on Monday. Travis Shaw drilled a two-run shot while Domingo Santana and Lorenzo Cain hit solo shots. All three homers came against Zack Greinke, who struck out nine over six innings otherwise. Chase Anderson outdueled him, limiting the D-Backs to a pair of runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Orioles 3, White Sox 2: Manny Machado hit his 15th homer of the season, moving into a tie for the major league lead with 15. He’s tied with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox. Mark Trumbo and Adam Jones also homered. Obviously, all of the Orioles’ homers were of the solo variety. Jose Abreu contributed a pair of doubles for the Pale Hose. The O’s are now 15-32; the White Sox are 13-31. Yuck.

Twins 4, Tigers 2: Jose Berrios may be back on track. He struck out 10 and held the Cardinals to one run over 7 1/3 innings his last time out. On Monday night against the Tigers, he limited the opposition to two runs on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in eight innings. Fernando Rodney worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

Cardinals 6, Royals 0: The Cardinals continue to get dominant starting pitching. After Jack Flaherty struck out 13 Phillies on Sunday, Miles Mikolas followed up by tossing a shutout against the Royals. Though he only struck out eight while holding the Royals to four hits and a walk. Tyler O'Neill homered in his third consecutive game and Matt Carpenter also went yard in a 3-for-4 night. The Royals are on pace for 114 losses.

Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: Carlos Gonzalez broke a 1-1 tie with an infield RBI single in the eighth inning. The other two runs scored on solo home runs from Max Muncy and Gerardo Para. Both times combined for only six hits and committed a combined four errors — three by the Dodgers. German Marquez tossed seven solid innings for the Rockies, striking out five while allowing the one run. Walker Buehler matched him with seven one-run innings, fanning six.