Two years ago, before teeing off at the Joe McGuff ALS Golf Classic at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, George Brett offered some encouragement for a slumping Mike Moustakas. At the time, Moustakas was mired in a 1-for-34 skid.
Relax, said Brett. Have fun, breathe, smile. The same advice was issued to Eric Hosmer, whose average was respectable but would hit one home run in the season’s first 61 games.
At the same annual event on Monday, Brett and golf legend Tom Watson, who holds a clinic before the shotgun start, marveled at what they’ve seen from those and others Royals hitters.
“They’re doing what they’re capable of doing,” Brett said. “All of the Royals, they’re less selfish. Moose has more hits to left field in one month than he had in his whole career.”
The Royals continue to lead the American League in hitting at .296, a figure bolstered by the seasons of Moustakas (.324) and Hosmer (.313), two of five regulars hitting above .300 as the Royals begin a three-game home series with the Indians on Tuesday.
In the just completed series with the Tigers, the left-handed hitting Moustakas and Hosmer each laid down bunts to the left side of the infield, where only the shortstop was stationed as a result of Detroit’s defensive shifts. Both players also swung away for additional base hits to the opposite field.
“I just laughed,” said Watson, a Royals fan. “Almost the whole left side was open. Teams are putting on shifts and they’re getting burned.”
It’s part of the a more mature approach, which Brett sees as the biggest difference in the Royals and was his focus upon taking over as their hitting coach in 2013, about a week and a half after playing in this golf event.
“What I’ve seen is they’ve finally realized that if you’re down two or three in the bottom of the seventh and nobody is on, you don’t have to hit a home run,” Brett said. “You’d see guys (before) swinging for the fences.
“Now they realize, ‘All I need is a single,’ and the next guy can get a single and the next guy might get a double and the night guy might get a single. That’s how you get three runs.”
Although players and the team will go through inevitable rough patches, Brett believes these Royals have staying power. Each of the last two seasons. the Royals heated up in the second half. Last year’s run extended into the playoffs.
Brett, who is in his 22nd year as the Royals’ vice president of baseball operations, thought all along that this team was built for an entire season.
And the Royals’ 16-9 record headed into the Indians series has supported his faith.
“As we speak, I see no reason why they can’t continue to dogfight for first place,” he said. “They’re in as good a position as anybody in baseball.”
In addition to team batting average and on-base percentage (.349), the Royals lead the American League in ERA at 3.08, and rank among the best in traditional fielding statistics.
Watson likens the Royals to Jordan Spieth, who last month won The Masters at age 21.
“It’s fun to watch the Royals play,” Watson said. “Like watching Jordan Spieth, the way he’s playing from the beginning of the year through The Masters.
“You see guys playing with that mentality, that confidence. You see the Royals doing the same thing right now, that they didn’t have earlier last year or early in the year before.”