As road trips go, that was rather unpleasant.
In the old days, returning home from 10 days away with a 4-6 record would be greeted with a shrug. Hell, in the old days no one would have noticed the Royals were still playing baseball. Instead, it’s greeted with a bit of concern.
Thursday’s game stung. The Royals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning in the most unlikely of ways: A bases load walk courtesy of Alex Rios and a two run single from Omar Infante. Baseball continues to amaze.
On the Rios walk, it was the fourth time this year the Royals have drawn a walk with the bases juiced. I guess it’s barely worth noting it was Rios who drew the walk. On a team with a collective walk rate of 5.6 percent, his current walk rate of 3.7 percent isn’t really notable. (That previous sentence will always blow my mind.) But let’s pause for a moment to understand that Rios has, after a brief relapse of relative productivity, turned back into a pumpkin. On this completed road trip, he managed to hit just .129/.206/.161 in 34 plate appearances. Welcome back. Now go away.
Infante’s normal production has returned as well. His road trip finished at .229/.229/.400. Nice slugging percentage for Omar, fueled in part by his first home run of the season.
Their combined ineptitude has opened up a fun little game for Royals fans: Who do you despise less?
The game is actually kind of relevant with the presence of Ben Zobrist because once Alex Gordon returns, you figure Zobrist will get some reps at either second or right field. Zobrist has already moved to the second spot in the lineup, which is a good move by Ned Yost. Especially when you look at Mike Moustakas’ numbers since June 1st and realize he’s really more of the Moustakas we’ve known all these years, not necessarily this opposite field monster we were hoping he’d morphed into. I’m not looking into numbers here, but it certainly feels like he’s going oppo with less frequency. Since June 1, Moose is hitting .242/.309/.356. Those numbers are similar to what he did in his first half season in the big leagues. His production on the year is still a net positive, but if he keeps up the pace of his current slide, he will give it all back by the time September rolls around.
At least Yost isn’t pairing Moustakas with Alcides Escobar at the top of the order these days. But damn if Escobar isn’t a pimple at the number one spot. In the AL this year, leadoff hitters own a .327 on base percentage. As a team, the Royals have posted an OBP of .316 from the top spot. Most of that is on Escobar, who has spent the entire year in that position. I’ve written about this at length, but hitting Escobar leadoff continues to be managerial malpractice. Yeah, yeah, yeah… Save your “batting order doesn’t matter” arguments. When you put an out machine with abysmal plate discipline at the top of your offense, that’s going to leave a mark. Escobar has more plate appearances than anyone on this Royals team. That’s not ideal.
I seriously didn’t mean to write a gloom and doom post. Bah. This offense… Yet there is good news. (So I’ll ignore Yordano Ventura walking the eighth and ninth place hitters after he was gifted that three run lead.)
The Royals are 14-11 since they lost Gordon to his groin strain. (That’s some weird phrasing. Yet accurate.) Bigger than the wins – and the wins are very big – is the fact they’ve added five games to their cushion atop the AL Central. Not only that, that record is the fourth best mark in the entire league during that stretch, outpaced only by the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rangers.
So while a 4-6 road trip where winnable games were lost may seem like the sky is falling, perspective is always important. The AL Central is incredibly weak and the Royals have found ways, despite the struggling offense, to outpace their own division in the smallest samples. They are thoroughly in command with a 9.5 game lead with 55 games left on the schedule. I take nothing for granted until I see that letter next to their name in the standings, (you know, the one that signifies they’ve either won the division or clinched a playoff spot) so I’ll refrain from celebration, but they are still in a great position.
They open a 10 game homestand tonight. Three against the White Sox, three with the Tigers before closing it out with four against the Angels. Some timely hits and by the time they hit the road in a week and a half, their lead could be even larger.