Captivating Royals rookie Yordano Ventura is the hardest-throwing starter in baseball. His potential stands for the convergence of a hopeful Royals’ present and future, and it symbolizes the essential starting pitching this Royals’ regime has strained to cultivate.
So no wonder a shudder rippled through Kaufman Stadium, and Royals fans, after Ventura came out of the Monday game against Houston with what was termed “discomfort” in his right throwing elbow.
It’s especially easy to assume the worst when a team is seeking its first playoff appearance in 29 years. And apprehensions about arm woes are heightened amid a disturbing baseball-wide trend of season-ending injuries that already has afflicted the Royals when Luke Hochevar was hurt in spring training.
Packaged with the news Tuesday that prime prospect Kyle Zimmer is being shut down for six to eight weeks because of what the Royals suggest amounts to a back strain, one 14-hour period bubbled with the elements to induce panic in some observers.
With that churning and feeding off itself during a brief-but-agonizing wait for clarity on Ventura, a sense of relief was evident around Kauffman after news that an MRI of his arm had come back “clean” and that he is expected to miss one measly start.
This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about, of course. If you had to guess whether this is the first indication of more trouble to come or a trifling blip, well, probably the best thing you could say would be luckily it’s only a guess.
But hysteria aside, this isn’t the biggest issue the Royals have.
Yes, they need Ventura, now and going forward, and his absence the rest of this season would have stung and created doubts about his future.
Right now, though, this is all about 2014.
And the dynamics of the season don’t hinge on Ventura.
And they certainly don’t depend on Zimmer, who still was months from being able to have a chance to help.
No, this is all about Capt. Obvious and the emperor wearing no clothes riding the elephant in the room:
You can’t win if you don’t score.
The Royals aren’t just off in a collective slump.
You can’t call it that after 51 games, three games fewer than a third of the season, the latest of which was a 3-0 loss to Houston on Tuesday.
Unless and until proven otherwise, the Royals can only be seen as a miserable offensive team, one that has concocted the fewest runs in the American League (194) and flashes a neon sign of that futility in their home-run production.
Since May 18, they have been stuck on 20 of those curiosities, which wasn’t so many even then but looks even more preposterous eight games later.
They seem to be channeling the 1986 Cardinals, who managed just 58 in 161 games.
Entering play Tuesday, the Royals were 14 behind the American League’s second-to-last HR-hitting team, Texas, and just ahead of Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz, who had 16.
They’re barely are on pace to eclipse Roger Maris (61) and will struggle to top the tainted 70-plus HR seasons of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.
You don’t have to hit home runs to score, of course, but the Royals aren’t mustering enough doubles and triples (93 and seven) to make up for it.
Considering the core lineup that has produced at various times in the past, it’s hard to understand where this complete gridlock comes from, though general manager Dayton Moore boiled it down succinctly with a few valid points.
“We’re way overaggressive in RBI situations … ,” Moore said. “We’ve got to understand that the pressure’s on the pitcher, and we can only take advantage of what the pitch is, what they give us.
“We can’t try to do too much. Early in the count, we’ve got to swing at pitches we can hit doubles, triples, home runs with.”
Maybe that’s not so easy, but it would be refreshing to see just those basics enforced.
And approaches at the plate are going to have to change somehow to make something of what so far is an eye-of-the-beholder season.
Depending on how you look at it, the Royals either have squandered good pitching or salvaged terrible hitting to be 24-27 … which oddly enough means if they win one of their next four they’ll have more wins at the end of May than they’ve had since 2003.
“We’re still in good shape,” Moore said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we are who we are, too.
“I don’t look for us to make drastic wholesale change. We’re going to keep going with the players we have and expect them to do well, and I’ve got no reason to think that they won’t begin to produce.”
Having a healthy Ventura might cut into that margin for error every fifth day, but given the generally strong pitching (fourth in the AL), changing the trajectory of the season depends a lot more on generating runs.
And that’s become a real reason to worry.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org