It certainly hasn’t seemed like the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season should be upon us.
But perhaps part of that is because there really hasn’t been much captivating baseball to watch this season in this neck of the woods.
The Kansas City Royals have largely been a disappointment, to say the least. The team enters Friday with the second-worst record in all of baseball, though a good weekend in Washington could feasibly even take them out of the American League Central’s basement.
What’s been most problematic for them? Well, where should the list begin? The bullpen has largely become the feature performer on the list, though the starting pitching has had its own turn and the offense, dynamic at times, has still been very inconsistent.
After an absolutely disastrous first month, the bullpen settled down for a few weeks in May with the likes of Jake Diekman and Scott Barlow seeming to become steadier options. A majority of the rest of the middle relief list, who shall not be named, have been a revolving door far more reminiscent of the bullpens from the late 90’s and early 00’s in K.C., where the ugly was more often than the ‘bad.’
Ian Kennedy has easily been the steadiest performer, though his opportunities have admittedly continued to grow further and further apart. After two sub-par seasons as a starter, he followed the track of Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis before him and has begun the trek as a late-inning lockdown guy and has had sound results.
Note: roughly one hour after writing this, he blows the save against Washington, allowing the game to go into extras —such a 2019 way of living.
(And to those understandably longing for the return of the Royals’ shutdown guys, know this: Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera’s current ERA’s with the Rockies and White Sox would put them as the second and third worst pitchers in even the Kansas City pen. Now Davis’ home/road splits at Coors Field in Denver are atrocious as that stadium has somewhat inexplicably returned to its pre-humidor status as a baseball-shaped pinball machine, but that’s a writeup for another time or another person more in sync with the Rockies’ goings on.)
If anyone would have foreseen the Reds’ castaway Homer Bailey as a possibility as the Royals’ most reliable starting pitcher three months in, well, I’m not certain I buy it. Now Danny Duffy and Brad Keller have shown brief glimpses of what’s made them effective in the past, but neither have been efficient, with high pitch counts getting them in trouble earlier in the game, or forcing the team to rely on previously spoken poor supporting cast.
Easily the silver lining on the season has come with a handful of hitters. Alex Gordon rediscovered his hitting stroke after looking all but finished over each of the past two seasons. He drove in his 54th run of the season on Friday night, equaling his season TOTAL of 2018. His next RBI will boost him to his highest total since 2014. Though health has been a large part of his difficulty, as has our next subject, it’s been a relief for most Royals fans, including myself, to see him not get beaten by routine fastballs over and over again as has seemed to be the case since he signed his four-year extension after 2015.
Jorge Soler has stayed on the field and has begun producing at the level anticipated since he first arrived in the big leagues with the Cubs. He is third in the American League with 23 home runs and providing a legitimate threat to capture the single-season longball record with Kansas City, just re-established by Mike Moustakas two years ago.
Well beyond Soler and Gordon, the explosion of Hunter Dozier into being a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat and viable All-Star candidate has easily been the biggest plus for the Royals. Dozier, once among the franchise’s top prospects, had battled injuries the past few campaigns and often looked overmatched during brief exposures to the Major Leagues. A .289 average with 13 home runs and 45 runs driven in right before the break is a spectacular effort for someone with just a .228 average and 11 round-trippers in his first 120 games prior to 2019.
The approach seems more consistent and potentially sustainable, but the next few months will definitely go a long way to seeing how the league adjusts to his improvements and whether he’s able to continue to produce.
Whit Merrifield, after being deemed one of the more profound snubs from the all-star game, earned his first trip to the midsummer classic next week in Cleveland with a first half that simply mirrored his amazing effort from 2018. He was the major league’s leader in hits and stolen bases last year and paces MLB in hits again this season thus far. At 30 years of age and with a team-friendly contract, it might behoove the team to explore trading partners, but only for a strong package that would bring some immediate and younger help to the team, which is far more likely to contend in 2021 than even next season with a very heavy number of advanced pitching from the previous two drafts surging through the minor leagues.
And very few can deny that Adalberto Mondesi has become one of the more exciting players to watch in the American League with his speed and power combination. If he can remain atop the lineup for the foreseeable future, it will also bode well for the next few seasons.
In spite of the many visible flaws, there are still realistic reasons to believe the ship will turn around swiftly, especially in a division where only the Twins are currently distinguishing themselves as a true power.
So bring on the second half.