The man who built the 2017 Royals says he is not discouraged. Not frustrated, either.
Over the past week, Royals general manager Dayton Moore watched his baseball team suffer through its first winless road trip in 11 years. He watched the offense meander through an anemic stretch. He watched the starting rotation finally appear vulnerable, and his bullpen offer a glimpse of its flaws.
The Royals (7-15) have lost eight in a row now, the latest coming in excruciating fashion on Friday night against the Minnesota Twins. They remain mired in last place in the American League Central as a three-game series against a division rival was interrupted by rain on Saturday evening. Yet Moore says his views and evaluation of his team were not altered by one lost week.
“Right now this is certainly the group of players that we believe in,” Moore said in a phone interview on Thursday, one day before the skid continued at Kauffman Stadium. “There simply is not enough sample size in 2017 to abandon or pull the plug or chart another course.”
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Moore has often cited the 40-game mark as a fair time to make fuller judgments on a baseball season. But even then, Moore says, his opinion is unlikely to be significantly swayed. The Royals entered the 2017 season expecting a premium defense to elevate a consistent and veteran-laden starting rotation. Club officials also believed the offense would be improved thanks to the healthy return of Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, the continued development of Eric Hosmer, and the acquisitions of Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss. The latter expectation was not markedly different than the industry consensus. Yet so far, only half of the formula has surfaced. The problem remains uncomplicated.
The Royals enter a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins on Friday averaging just 2.57 runs per game. Their team batting average is .205, the worst in baseball. On Saturday, their OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) was just .594, 47 points worse than the 29th-ranked team in baseball, the San Francisco Giants.
Alex Gordon is batting just .181 with zero homers. Hosmer, after a three-hit game on Wednesday and a one-for-three night on Friday, is back up to .224 after a quiet start. Moss, a veteran player with a track record of getting on base and hitting homers, has been a strikeout machine, even by his standards. In 16 games, Moss has hit .143 with 24 strikeouts, thought he did club his fourth homer on Friday night in a 6-4 loss.
“Baseball is very unpredictable,” Moore said. “We had a bad week. Two weeks ago, we had a good week. And then we just had a bad week. We had a bad week at work. That’s the way I look at it.
“I expect us to have a good week, finish off the month strong and positive, and take it into May and have a good month of May.”
As he spoke on Thursday, Moore said the front office would continually look for ways to improve the offense, a stance that would have been true even if the team was seven games over .500 in that moment. Yet what was true in the offseason is likely still the case. The club is still waiting on the return of Soler. A crew of bullpen reinforcements waits in the upper levels of the minors. But the Royals’ fortunes will depend on the production of their homegrown core, a group of players that helped win a World Series in 2015.
“With this group of players, regardless of whether we’re 20-20 at the 40-game mark, or we’re 18-22 or whether we’re 22-18, my opinion is not going to change much,” Moore said. “As long as we’re healthy, as long as our team is working hard, as long as they’re committed to preparing to win each and every day, I stay with this group.”
In the moments after Wednesday’s loss in Chicago, the Royals processed the sting of a winless road trip. Hosmer talked about the importance of returning home. Manager Ned Yost suggested that his team was perhaps pressing too hard to get off to a good start.
“I’m seeing too much effort at times,” Yost said. “This is a group that plays their tails off.”
Two days later, the streak continued. The Royals built a 4-2 lead on the Twins in the late innings before a defensive meltdown served as the kindling for a blown save from Joakim Soria.
Yet in the face of the disappointment, as the Royals move forward in a season that could be defined by a pending class of free agents, Moore sees other reasons for optimism. The energy and focus have been present on defense, which is one reason the Royals entered Saturday with the best starting rotation ERA (3.12) in the majors.
“The fact that we’re playing good defense tells you that the concentration level is high,” Moore said. “And if the concentration level is high, and those are the same players that hit … there’s no reason to think that we’re not going to be a lot better. Every team is going to go through this.”
For now, it is too early for a full-blown panic, even as the alarm bells start to go off. The Royals entered Saturday just 5 1/2 games out of first place. Moore and Yost can cite slow starts in both 2013 and 2014. This is not new, Yost reminded.
Moore believes that Gordon will snap out of his funk and “help us win games.” Moore believes Hosmer will perform to his track record. The Royals are still built on pitching and defense, built to prevent runs, which may limit their offensive ceiling. But Moore still believes in the talent on the roster.
“We’ve had good Aprils, of course,” he said. “But early on, the first couple months, we’ve always went through little stretches like this. I’m not discouraged. I’m not frustrated. I’m very optimistic and positive that our players will continue to work hard and continue to focus on winning.”