Royals

Five reasons for the Royals’ early-season struggles

The Royals lose again — and can finally go home

The Royals lost to the Yankees on Thursday night, falling to 2-5 on a seven-game road trip and 16-18 overall. The Star's Rustin Dodd looks back at that game and looks ahead to the weekend series against Atlanta.
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The Royals lost to the Yankees on Thursday night, falling to 2-5 on a seven-game road trip and 16-18 overall. The Star's Rustin Dodd looks back at that game and looks ahead to the weekend series against Atlanta.

A little perspective is needed when talking about the Royals’ current troubles.

After 34 games, they have a 16-18 record, which is considerably better than the 2005 Royals, who were 8-26 at this point in the season. If you remember that season, ask yourself if that stressed you as much as this year’s team.

Yes, expectations are much, much higher than a decade ago. But things aren’t as bad as they seem today.

Intensity

In the history of major-league baseball, only 16 teams have won the World Series the year after losing in the World Series. Four of those teams repeated as World Series champions. The last was the 1978 New York Yankees. The others: the 1908 Cubs and the 1928 and 1962 Yankees.

Red Sox manager John Farrell talked about the difficulty of repeating just months after Boston won the 2014 World Series. It sounds eerily familiar to the Royals.

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“The one main difference this year would be that you don’t have maybe that natural motivation that was built in with guys wanting to rewrite their story or redeem themselves in a way,” Farrell told MLB.com. “We’ve got to monitor that as we go about our building-block process, as we did in Spring Training (in 2013), as we did last year.”

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The San Francisco Giants may be the perfect example of the trouble with repeating. They won three World Series titles in five years (ending in 2014 against the Royals), but never back-to-back. The Giants missed the playoffs the season after each of their championships.

The Royals lost to the Yankees on Thursday night, falling to 2-5 on a seven-game road trip and 16-18 overall. The Star's Rustin Dodd looks back at that game and looks ahead to the weekend series against Atlanta.

“I think more than anything there’s so much parity in baseball, it’s not easy to do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in that MLB.com article. “The Cardinals, the Tigers, they’ve been there, Texas, but it’s such a hard thing to do consistently. And so much depends on your guys having a good year, injuries, the pitching holding up. And you need a surprise every year.”

Injuries

Right fielder Alex Rios broke his hand early in the 2015 season. On May 8, left-hander Jason Vargas left a start early and needed Tommy John surgery. This season’s biggest injury was to All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was placed on the disabled list May 5 because of a fractured thumb. He is still leading the Royals in home runs (seven) and is second in slugging percentage (.850) among starters. It’s a big bat missing in the lineup, and they are 2-6 without him.

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Chris Young (muscle strain in his forearm) and Kris Medlen (shoulder issue) were placed on the disabled list Thursday. That’s two-fifths of the rotation dealing with health issues.

The rotation

Whew, where would the Royals be without Ian Kennedy, who was 4-2 with a 2.13 ERA and 1.08 WHIP before Thursday night’s loss? The struggles of the Royals’ starters can be traced to an increase in walks (4.51 per nine innings this season compared with 2.94 in 2015). The ERA (4.34 to 4.91), home runs per nine innings (1.06 to 1.45) and FIP (4.32 to 5.09) have all increased. (FIP estimates a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the defense).

Through the Royals’ first 34 games in 2015, the starting pitchers lasted at least five innings 28 times. This year, the number is 24. That may not seem like a big difference, but over the course of a season, that equates to about 20 more games in which a starter doesn’t last five innings.

According to Baseball Reference, Medlen has thrown the fewest innings pitched per start (4.05), while Young has the 12th fewest (4.6). That is adding a lot of stress to the bullpen.

The road

The Royals weren’t world-beaters away from Kauffman Stadium in 2015, but they had a solid 44-37 road record. This year, they are 7-13 away from The K.

Additionally, the Royals were successful in 2015 against teams that weren’t in contention. They were 64-34 against teams that had a .500 record or worse. This season, they are only 10-10.

Sure, it’s early in the season and it’s tough to pick who the winners and the losers will eventually be, but the Royals were swept by the last-place Angels and dropped two of three to the A’s (14-21). They also lost three of four to the last-place Yankees.

The White Sox

After 34 games in 2015, the Royals were 21-13, a game ahead of the Tigers (20-14). This season, the White Sox jumped out to a 23-12 record. And while they’ve lost a couple games recently, their unexpected hot start put the Royals in a big hole. That’s made things look even worse. If Chicago begins to fall back to earth as the Royals heat up, suddenly their current 6  1/2 -game deficit doesn’t look terrible.

Plus, the Royals and White Sox still have to play 19 times. The Indians are a game and a half ahead of the Royals, and took two of three from KC in a series last weekend. The Royals ran away from the competition in the Central a year ago. This year, it looks to be a heck of a race.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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