Still Broken – A Kansas City Royals Preview

(Bryce Edwards / Flickr)

Alright, let’s remind everyone why we’re all mad at the Royals.

The Sox (kind of) got the last laugh on this one, as the Royals sputtered to a putrid 59-103 record, while Tim Anderson had a breakout season that included a batting title. Kansas City seems likely to remain a rock-bottom team as the Sox (hopefully) begin their ascent, which should (hopefully) provide a fountain of wins that will boost the Sox’ chances in the American League Wild Card race for the seasons to come. Very little went right for the 2019 Royals, and it’s astonishing that they still finished 11.5 games ahead of last place.

At the beginning of last season, there was some real hope that the Royals’ young players would take big steps forward and that the team would be able to forge a path back to relevance, but that didn’t materialize. Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi looked like he could be the best of the bunch, and the slick fielder was hitting .284/.317/.534 on May 7, only to hit an Alcides Escobar-like .251/.276/.363 the rest of the way. The defense was very good, and Mondesi did tie the major league lead in triples, but questions about the bat abound heading into his age-24 season. First baseman Ryan O’Hearn burst onto the scene as a slugging presence in 2018, but finished below the Mendoza line in 2019 as pitchers preyed on his aggressiveness and got him to beat more pitches into the dirt (46.3% GB). He’s still first on the depth chart for some reason.

Elsewhere, contact-hitting Nicky Lopez forced his way onto the major league roster by hitting .353/.457/.500 at Omaha. Once arriving in The Show, he embodied the fears of every Sox fan that’s pessimistic about Nick Madrigal, as pitchers were glad to challenge him (4.5% BB, vs. 14.5% BB in the minors) and he hit the ball too weakly for all that contact to make much of a difference. He’s still first on the depth chart for some reason. Catcher Salvador Perez succumbed to Tommy John surgery and missed all of last season, but when healthy, he has good power for a catcher that gets negated somewhat by his bad framing and horrid plate discipline. The card-carrying member of the fun police snapped a streak of six straight All-Star game appearances last season, and assuming he doesn’t get crushed by the Mir Space Station, you can probably pencil him in for his seventh next year, regardless of whether he’s having a good season.

Not all of the news was bad. Hunter Dozier has the look of a late bloomer who showed some big power while tying the major league lead in triples. Whit Merrifield scraped his way to another 4.0 bWAR season while playing all over the diamond and tying the major league lead in triples. Designated hitter Jorge Soler made a lot of money for someone who bet on “the field” to lead the American League in home runs. The former Cubs farmhand finally delivered on the promise he showed six years ago; however, he did not tie the major league lead in triples.

The Royals’ rotation is very much lacking in top-end talent, and is led by public enemy number one in Brad Keller. Keller’s not an overpowering arm and his success is entirely predicated on keeping the ball in the park, which he does by getting hitters to beat his sinker and slider into the dirt. Danny Duffy slightly edges out Perez as the second-longest tenured Royal (after Alex Gordon), and the lefty is a couple years removed from resembling a strong number-two starter. He’s been banged up quite a bit the past couple years, and his slider has seen a decline in effectiveness.

Jakob Junis threw a slider on over 43 percent of pitches last season, which was probably a reaction to hitters slugging .621 (!!!) on his fourseam. The underwhelming fastball leaves him little margin for error. Mike Montgomery stumbled badly as a member of the 2019 Cubs, so the Royals took a flier on rebuilding him in exchange for Martin Maldonado. Once in Kansas City, Montgomery rediscovered some of his ground ball flare, and even began to mix in a cutter, with inconsistent results.

That might give you a picture of what the shaky Royals squad looks like at their best. This weekend, however, the Sox will be facing a severely depleted version of the team. Keller and Junis tested positive for COVID-19 and Montgomery went down with a lat strain earlier this week, leaving the rotation in shambles. The Royals announced yesterday that lefty prospect Kris Bubic will get the start on Friday. Bubic hasn’t pitched above high-A, but he’ll now be testing his violent delivery and promising off-speed offerings in The Show. Former top prospect Kyle Zimmer and his control problems have stepped in, and “Ronald Bolanos” made a two-inning spot start last Sunday, meaning we’re in for a lot of bullpen innings this weekend. In the lineup, the Royals’ most important bat in Dozier is also missing; longtime Phillie Maikel Franco has been strong in his stead, but that probably won’t last.

***

Over much of last decade, the Royals established themselves as something of a villainous organization in the AL Central, from their propensity for brawls, to their demonstrative celebrations (fine), to their unwillingness to condone opponents demonstratively celebrating (not fine). The roster has turned over plenty over the last five years, but the aggravating qualities seem to persist. There’s plenty of history with even bad Kansas City teams serving as a stumbling block for playoff-hopeful White Sox squads, and it’d be great for the Sox to reverse that trend while the Royals are still broken.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Whit Merrifield – RF
  2. Jorge Soler – DH
  3. Adalberto Mondesi – SS
  4. Salvador Perez – C
  5. Ryan O’Hearn – 1B
  6. Maikel Franco – 3B
  7. Alex Gordon – LF
  8. Nicky Lopez – 2B
  9. Brett Phillips – CF

Pitching

Photo credit: (Bryce Edwards / Flickr)

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Ted Mulvey

Good writeup, pnoles. Spot-on statement: “There’s plenty of history with even bad Kansas City teams serving as a stumbling block for playoff-hopeful White Sox squads” On paper, the Sox should, at a minimum, take 2 of 3. The dour part of me expects less, though.

Eagle Bones

Are we assuming that if Madrigal is not up for Game 1 then they’re probably waiting until at least the next series (or until they’re back in Chicago)? I’m assuming it doesn’t make sense to call him up in the middle of the series (barring injury), right?

Jim Margalus

That’s how I see it.

MrStealYoBase

I think they also will try to err on the side of “plausible deniability” when it comes to service time manipulation. Even if any grievance would likely find in the team’s favor, the Sox are definitely ones to try and avoid the bad press if they can help it.

MrStealYoBase

Nevermind lol

As Cirensica

Yo made me look at the 2019 standings again as I thought you had a typo when the Royals finished with such an atrocious win-loss record and still were 11 games ahead of last place, but oh boy, I had forgotten how awful the Tigers were last year. Mercy!

MrStealYoBase

Brady Singer looked pretty decent in his debut. Seems like exactly the kind of guy the Sox would struggle with and I’m glad that he isn’t lined up to go this weekend.

That being said, there’s no excuses for losing to this team. Every game against that pitching staff is solidly “winnable”.

carbiner

Thoughts on the season that’ll last a week or two more: Luis Robert is great, we need more than two starting pitchers, bullpen surprisingly good, Eloy surprisingly dumb (as a fielder), Nick Madrigal is the greatest player who ever lived, even better than Rookie Gordon Beckham.

joewho112

I am feeling sorry for Madrigal. I think the hype has well exceeded what he is capable of, especially in his rookie year. Assuming his walk rate drops because major league pitchers aren’t afraid of singles hitters and have decent control on average, he’s going to come up and hit an empty .300 and play solid defense and people are going to hate him for not being an MVP candidate.

Eagle Bones

He’s finally ready after all of that hard work in Schaumburg!

The Chicago White Sox are calling up highly regraded second baseman Nick Madrigal, sources tell ESPN. He’ll join the team in Kansas City. The White Sox chose him fourth overall in the 2018 draft.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2020

Eagle Bones

And Herrera DFA’d? This is like Christmas in July! Seriously, sorry for Herrera that he didn’t work out, not trying to celebrate what could be the end of the guy’s career, but it certainly seems like the correct move.

Nick Madrigal joins the White Sox. Kelvin Herrera designated for assignment.

— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) July 31, 2020

asinwreck

I can’t decide which of these moves counts as the best news of the day, but I feel obligated to note that it is fitting the end of Herrera’s Sox career is mentioned in a post titled Still Broken.