Enjoying a Morsel of Royal Good Tidings
A baseball season is long and one of its amazing features is that lots of failure needs to be overcome. The best hitters make outs almost seventy percent of the time. The best teams lose sixty or more games. After just one weekend of major league play (except for the two teams that played in Japan), there is one, count ‘em, one unbeaten team.
So, making value judgments early is of course silly. But we follow sports, and want to discuss them with our friends, have our opinions and our takes. The Atlanta Braves are almost certain to be a better team than the Kansas Royals this season, but after the first weekend there is also only one winless team, and that is Atlanta.
And the hometown Kansas City Royals took their first series of the season from the White Sox, and sit tied for first place at 2-1. Winning series is valued in baseball for what I just talked about. Sweeping them, and ripping off lengthy winning streaks, is tough. The Royals know it all too well. They had two separate months last year where they never won a series, so let’s enjoy this one.
The Royals lost twenty of their first twenty-five games last year, so an emphasis on starting right was certainly a priority, and winning consecutive games to start the season was probably more important than it ever should be.
But if you want to try and feel better about not just this season, but whether this season has an impact on the future, the way that the series was won matters more. The two position players that you most need to show can be very good, if not star players, Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler, opened the season strongly. Soler with three doubles, and five runs batted in, and Mondesi flashing his electric speed with two triples and a .333 batting average.
Opening Day starter Brad Keller was dominant, pitching like an ace, pounding out zeroes in a tight game before his team could break through. Jacob Junis was solid in his start, and Jorge Lopez looked promising early before getting roughed up in the final game loss. Ian Kennedy pitched a scoreless inning in the two wins, and saved one, perhaps meaning they can get some return on his fat salary, or potentially turn him into a trade piece. The Royals caught and threw the ball with their usual efficiency, made more noticeable as the White Sox kicked it around.
But (and I am sure you have heard some version of this caveat), before we go to the flip side, three baseball games is a tiny sample size, less than two percent of the season, about the equivalent of half of the first quarter of the first game of an NFL season.
So, you can skip over that and soak in the good stuff presented after the winning series against Chicago, or you can take it to heart as I present the warning signs from our tiny morsel of Royals baseball.
The Royals have yet to hit a home run, and are hitting .219. They scrounged up some runs, but were aided immensely by four Chicago errors and a handful of other plays that should have been made. Four players did ALL the damage. The Royals had 11 players come to bat. The other seven combined to hit .117. Lineup depth seems likely to be an issue.
Another Royals emphasis was the bullpen. The Royals did just about everything poorly in 2018, but the pen took the cake, especially in front of a fan base only slightly removed from watching historically great work. The 5.09 E.R.A. was a full run over league average, and a third of a run worse than the next worst A.L. bullpen.
Early 2019 shivers down the spine came as the relievers tried their best to give away the two wins, and were only marginally better in mop-up work in the loss. Only Kennedy’s first career save and feel-good scoreless debuts by Chris Ellis and Kyle Zimmer were bright notes as the first weekend produced a salty 9.64 E.R.A.
Oh yeah, the weather sucked, too.
But let’s get back to feeling good. The Twins are in town for two starting Tuesday, a FIRST PLACE SHOWDOWN no less, and it is going to be at least a semblance of spring. The way that the early season schedule shakes out, Royals fans likely get another dose of Brad Keller in the series opener, just the season’s fourth game, and he should pitch in the series wrap-up at Detroit on Sunday. So Keller will get three of the first eight games of the year, and right now that seems like a great thing.
Somebody at the major league office seemed to have a soft spot for Kansas City after last year’s disaster, because after that one-series road trip to Detroit, the Royals get another home stand, two four game sets against the Mariners and the Indians, making it fourteen of the first seventeen games at home. You can’t ask for a better chance to feel good in April, a rarity in Royals history.
After those first 17 games, we should at least be able to make some kind of reasonable assessment. If they do not play close to .500 baseball given these advantages, it would be a bad sign, but only necessarily for this season. We could still have some performances that are more integral to the future even if the wins aren’t there.
But why not think as the Royals sit as a winning team, that maybe they can get a little something going here, with much of it being right in front of the home fans? I was out there on Opening Day, and saw the dedication they showed in sitting out the cold rain delay, and hanging around in great numbers for the game.
Maybe that deserves a little early season reward.