Opinion

Ask Rustin: A look at the Royals’ offense, Merrifield’s future and the best Death Cab album

Royals left fielder Brandon Moss chases after an RBI single by Oakland’s Yonder Alonso that scored Khris Davis in the fourth inning Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals left fielder Brandon Moss chases after an RBI single by Oakland’s Yonder Alonso that scored Khris Davis in the fourth inning Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Royals lost an 8-3 decision to the Oakland A’s on Wednesday night. It was the club’s eighth straight loss against the A’s. They dropped to 2-6 on this young season, the franchise’s worst start since 2006. So let’s start with a quick rundown of the Royals’ offense entering Thursday’s series finale at Kauffman Stadium.

— The Royals rank 14th in the American League with 24 runs scored (Thanks, Blue Jays.)

— They rank 13th in OPS (.618), last in on-base percentage (.268), 13th in fewest walks (23) and 10th in most strikeouts (69).

— Of the 10 players on their roster with at least 10 at-bats, seven of them entered Wednesday batting under .190.

— Eric Hosmer is batting .188 with one extra-base hit — a homer; Alex Gordon is batting .182 with two doubles; Brandon Moss is 1 for 20 with a solo homer, 11 strikeouts and five walks.

— They are eight for 52 with runners in scoring position.

— They have managed to club 11 homers, which is tied for third in the league. The number also includes 10 solo shots.

Other than that …

So let’s get to the questions. The sample size is still rather small. One three-hit day can raise a batting average by 75 points. The track records suggest some regression to the mean is coming soon. If you want to listen to Sam and I talk more about the offense, check out this week’s episode of True Blue Live.

The music pick of the week is Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know”, a track that sounds like it should be on The Black Keys’ “Brothers” album and doubles as Mike Minor’s intro music. At least, it did on Monday.

To the mailbag …

While the offense, as a whole, has not been good, Moss’s struggles have been even more pronounced. He’s hitting .050 after 20 at-bats. He’s striking out a lot. His K-rate (44 percent) ranks second in baseball behind Minnesota’s Byron Buxton. But aside from the small sample size caveat, here a couple things that apparently need to be mentioned.

Moss, 33, signed a two-year, $12 million deal in the offseason. He clubbed 28 homers and posted a 106 OPS plus in 128 games last season despite an ankle injury that lingered for much of the second half. For his career, he’s posted an OPS-plus of 109. He cannot be optioned to the minor leagues.

Peter O’Brien, for all his fun raw power, is a 26-year-old batting .200/.304/.200 with zero homers in 20 at-bats at Omaha. He’s batted .176 with a .674 OPS in 79 major-league plate appearances.

Jorge Bonifacio positioned himself for a look in the event of an injury. But Jorge Soler will put another body in front of him once he returns from injury.

But back to Moss. Barring injury, he will be on the roster. His track record suggests his numbers will improve.

I’ve always thought the batting order, in general, was kind of overrated — at least compared to how it commands our attention and generates debate. Obviously, you want your best hitters getting the most at-bats. Other than that … the advantage of optimizing the lineup appears pretty small.

In that context, it’s hard to find too much to quibble with in terms of the lineup Ned Yost has run out there. Nobody is hitting right now.

I’ve often thought Lorenzo Cain could project as a decent leadoff option. But he’s comfortable at the No. 3 spot, and if you have him hitting first, you start to get really lefty dominant in the middle of the order.

It’s been pretty quiet on the Hochevar front since spring training. His shoulder did not respond well after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. The recovery timetable is generally four to six months. Hochevar’s has taken much longer than that. It appears unlikely a team will take a chance until they know more about his medical status.

1. Alex Gordon. “Nebraska” — Bruce Springsteen

2. Mike Moustakas. “Keep It Healthy” — Warpaint

3. Lorenzo Cain. “All Night” — Chance the Rapper

4. Eric Hosmer. “In the Air Tonight” — Phil Collins

5. Salvador Perez. “Skinny Love” — Bon Iver

7. Jorge Soler. “Continuous Thunder” — Japandroids

7. Brandon Moss. “Call to Arms” — Sturgill Simpson

8. Alcides Escobar. “Magic Man” — Heart

9. Raul Mondesi. “Ready for the Floor” — Hot Chip

Jorge Soler will likely begin a rehab assignment early next week. It’s a good question on the roster spot. These things generally have a way of working themselves out. Injuries and so on. But as the roster is currently constructed, I wonder if they would consider going back down to seven pitchers for a while to accommodate Soler’s presence.

The Royals have been through this before. This group has won together, lost together, grieved together, so there is not much that will rattle them. In general, the clubhouse has had a slightly more professional vibe this year. Players are older. There are more and more kids around. Jarrod Dyson’s voice — a constant presence on most days — is gone now.

It’s going to take a lot more than eight games to spur any level of noticeable panic. But I thought Eric Hosmer offered some interesting thoughts last night.

“We’ve just got to come out with some energy,” Hosmer said. “Not that we’re not, but it just seems like we’re flat right now. Nothing can really get going offensively, defensively, pitching-wise. So we’ve just got to get better, plain and simple.”

That Hosmer remarked on the energy level was mildly interesting. In baseball code, his point was more or less clear: This early run has got to stop.

Ned Yost hinted during spring training that Merrifield’s versatility might make more sense on the roster when they had to go with eight pitchers. Well, that happened on Wednesday. Merrifield is still at Omaha.

This is basically the deal: If the club wants to play Raul Mondesi every day, and they don’t want to risk losing Colon by putting him through waivers, there isn’t a lot of room for Merrifield on the 25-man roster. To find room, you’d have to do something with Colon, Paulo Orlando or Cheslor Cuthbert. For now, that’s where we’re at.

It’s hard not to admire the talent and ambitious of John Tillman, the man behind Father John Misty, and yet, man, this is really tedious listening. The title track on the album, “Pure Comedy” is such a note-for-note facsimile of an early 1970s Elton John track, I think I’d rather just listen to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

I’m not even sure what the conventional or consensus answer would be nowadays. But my top three would be:

3. “Plans” (2005)

2. “We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes.” (2000)

1. “Transatlanticism” (2003)

In retrospect, the track list on “Plans” is deep. The opener (“Marching Bands of Manhattan”) is one of their best, and “Different Names for the Same Thing” is probably the best song on the album. But the album, on the whole, kind of traipses too far into the schmaltz. Not that “Transatlanticism” is much better in that regard. But the first seven songs on the album — minus The Sound of Settling — are a proverbial murderer’s row of early 2000s indie pop.

The New Year. Lightness. Title And Registration. Expo ’86. The Sound of Settling. Tiny Vessels. And, of course, the title track.

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