Don't Kill The Mellinger

Royals playoff hopes gone, here are three things that went right and three things that need to go right

Updated: 2013-09-26T17:02:17Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

The Royals hopes are done now, kaput, mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with four games to go and it’s a rather conflicted feeling for many.

As @ScottKCMO writes on Twitter: "Am I to understand there will be no parade?"

Scott is joking, of course, but he does touch on a strange thing about this season: should fans be encouraged or discouraged?

Encouraged that they’ve already surpassed last year’s win total by 11, and that with one more they’ll have the franchise’s highest mark since 1992?

Or discouraged that a familiar dive in May, and another in August, effectively sunk the team’s best chances?

Anyway, to me, there’s much more to be encouraged about than discouraged but let’s kick off what will surely be an entire offseason’s worth of talk with a quick review.

Three things that went right

1. Eric Hosmer. He started slow enough that his current numbers (.303/.356/.451) are only a slight improvement from his rookie year, but the last 3 ½ months or so took a clear step into his enormous talent. He has a good case for team MVP (I’d lean Sal Perez, but whatever) after hitting .321/.371/.500 since June 1, a sample of 469 plate appearances.

2. The pitching held up. We’ve talked a lot about the impact of James Shields and Ervin Santana, but one thing that’s easy to overlook is the help they’ve given the bullpen. Shields and Santana have been great on their own (ERAs of 3.21 and 3.24, respectively), but they’ve also combined for 432 2/3 innings. Royals relievers have thrown just 451 1/3 innings, the second-lowest total in the AL, and more than 100 fewer than last year. That’s an easy-to-miss reason why they have the lowest ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.14) in the league. Jeremy Guthrie has thrown 204 2/3 innings, making this the first time since 1997 (Rosado, Appier, Belcher) the Royals have had three pitchers go over 200 innings.

3. Resiliency. Kansas City has seen a lot of Royals teams fold under the weight of losing streaks, but this one never did. Within a week of the 4-19 stretch, they started a streak of six straight wins and nine of 10. Right before the All-Star break, they lost five in a row. Right after the All-Star break, they won nine in a row. Gut-wrenching losses were followed by stubborn wins. You’d rather have a team that never had the 4-19 stretch, obviously, but the next-best thing is one that can bounce back from it.

Honorable mention: Sal Perez, Greg Holland, the defense, and the pickups of Emilio Bonifacio and Justin Maxwell.

Three things that need to go right

1. Mike Moustakas. Despite what Ned Yost would have you believe, Moustakas is not on a Hall of Fame pace so far in his young career. Moose has 1,485 big league plate appearances. Yost and others have said they want 1,200 to 1,500 to see what a guy is. So far, Moose has been a bad big league hitter. His adjusted OPS is 84, which means he’s been 16 percent worse than average, and since 2000 here are the players who’ve struggled that much in their first three seasons and at least 1,200 plate appearances:

Zack Cozart, Darwin Barney, Elvis Andrus, Jose Castillo, Willy Taveras, Jose Reyes, Juan Uribe, Jack Wilson, Cesar Izturis, Julio Lugo, Juan Pierre, Warren Morris, Christian Guzman, and Andy Kennedy.

I’m not calling Moose a bust. Twenty homers last year is intriguing. But I am saying that he regressed at the plate, and the Royals are going to have a hard time winning without him producing.

2. Alcides Escobar. For most big teams, Escobar’s 2013 season is just unplayable. Like, literally, unplayable. Escobar is hitting .234/.259/.301, for an adjusted OPS of 53. That’s worse than Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur when the Royals walked away from them. Escobar is also working on 635 plate appearances. Only one big league regular since 2000 (Ronny Cedeno, 2006) has been worse. Escobar’s defense at short brings obvious value, but not THIS much value. If Escobar can be what he was in 2012, he’s one of the league’s better shortstops. If he is what he’s been in 2013, he’s an anvil on the lineup.

3. More pitching. The Royals are, most likely, not going to re-sign Ervin Santana. They will try, but someone will probably outspend them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, which we’ll get into this offseason, but the Royals will need to replace the considerable value he brought this year. Fortunately, they have some candidates in Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, and prospect Kyle Zimmer, who I’d expect to get a long look in spring training. This is a group built on pitching and defense, so any step back in either category is a major blow.

Honorable mention: Billy Butler has to hit for more power, second base can’t be a black hole, and the lineup needs more pop out of right field.

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