That All-Star stuff was sure nice, wasnt it?
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Now, its just us and the Royals again for another 12 weeks. And as the Royals know better than anyone, some things need to change.
I can only speak offensively, right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. I mean, obviously, you want the pitching to do this or that, but we need to do a better job with the bats. We need to be more consistent, and that starts with me.
Perhaps, but it doesnt end there although, yes, Francoeur entered the break in a rally-killing .198 funk over his final 32 games.
But the Royals face multiple questions as they prepare to open their post-break schedule Friday with the first of three weekend games against first-place Chicago at Kauffman Stadium. A 10-game homestand also includes Seattle and Minnesota.
Those questions, unquestionably, start with pitching specifically a rotation that produced only two quality starts over a 2-8 collapse just prior to the break. Not surprisingly, those two starts came in the only victories.
Thats definitely true, manager Ned Yost said. You see it in our games. When we pitch well, we win. When we dont, we dont. Its about pitching for every team. Its not just our team.
But few teams are patching together a rotation as the Royals are doing.
Two of the units projected cornerstones, Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, are out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery; and Jonathan Sánchez, the clubs key off-season acquisition, has been a major disappointment at 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA.
Further, lefty Mike Montgomery, once viewed as the organizations best pitching prospect, was demoted Wednesday to Class AA Northwest Arkansas to recapture his mojo after going 3-6 with a 5.69 ERA at Class AAA Omaha.
And the general view is right-hander Jake Odorizzi, the new No. 1, likely needs a little more seasoning and a little more stamina; scouts say his stuff starts to fade after 65-70 pitches.
The best available antidote for the rotation figures to be a revived attack. The Royals rank 12th among 14 American League teams at 4.10 runs per game after ranking sixth last season at 4.51.
Weve just got to hit better, left fielder Alex Gordon said. Ive been saying that, all year, we havent really hit like we think we can hit. That has to change. We have to help out our pitchers. When they only give up a couple of runs, we need to win those games.
The Royals pre-break swoon virtually erased nine-plus weeks of digging out from a 12-game April skid. It knocked them back to 10 games under .500 at 37-47 and left them 9½ games behind the White Sox in the American League Central Division.
That adds importance to the upcoming series because a bad weekend will push the Royals deficit into double figures and likely put them in a sell mode if they arent there already as the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline approaches.
Weve obviously got a huge homestand coming up, Francoeur said. Weve got the White Sox. Theyre in first place, and theyre playing good baseball. But as good as they are, maybe the break will cool them off and heat us up.
Yost chooses to characterize the Royals inconsistent first half as not-unexpected growing pains for what remains the majors youngest roster.
Its still a process, he said. You have to go through stages. No club brings up a core group of young guys and just takes off. Look at Tampa Bay. There are tons of examples out there.
You have to go through some of these things that were going through now. You have to learn how to (handle it when you) struggle. You have to learn how to produce at this level, which is much more magnified because everyone is watching.
Yost points to shortstop Alcides Escobar as an example of the growth other players are in the process of making. Escobar leads the club in batting at .307, which is 104 points higher than he batted last season for his first 60 games.
At the beginning of last year, Yost said, he was swinging at everything and trying to pull everything. But over the course of last year, he became a pretty darn good hitter. But it took him two years in the big leagues to get there.
All that changed was he, finally, was in a position where he understood what the big leagues are like. He became accustomed to it and was comfortable in it. That let him start to refine his game. You have to go through these things. You just have to.
The Royals got a recent boost when catcher Salvy Perez returned from a season-long stay on the disabled list he is batting .383 (18 for 47) with four homers in 13 games. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain and second baseman Chris Getz will return for Fridays game.
In short, the Royals finally, for the first time all season, have the chance Friday to put their projected starting lineup on the field. Its a starting unit in which no player is older than 28.
I think were a lot better than a year ago, Yost said. I think were solid at most positions now. You look into the future for the next two or three years, weve got guys who are going to be at those positions.
And I think theyre going to be All-Star-caliber-type guys.
The raucous crowds earlier this week for three days of All-Star activities at Kauffman Stadium, if nothing else, suggest the city still thirsts for the chance to get excited about baseball. Nothing underscored that more that the rabid support shown for Billy Butler.
We already have a lot of key pieces here, Butler said, and were looking to build on that. As an organization, its all about winning. Definitely, were going to start winning a lot.
A belief still permeates the clubhouse that winning is a matter of when not if. Less certain is if that when is the coming 12 weeks.
We just have to keep playing hard, third baseman Mike Moustakas said. We just have to keep grinding. Were knocking on that door. Instead of knocking, weve just got to kick it down. Just beat it down.
Were right there. We feel were close, and its going to be fun once we get this thing rolling in the second half.