Jeff Francoeur of the Kansas City Royals drops his bat after striking out against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Over the week-end, I had this incredibly vivid dream in which the people at ESPN were practically begging me to come back to my old blogging job. I've always had a really difficult time saying "no" to anyone, about anything. But in my dream, I just kept demurring, because in my dream I worked (and work, in real life) with great people at SB Nation and also because David Schoenfield's doing great work at ESPN.com in my old, now greatly expanded SweetSpot space.
OK, maybe we could have seen this coming. After all, this was still a pitching staff led by ... Bruce Chen. And Luke Hochevar. And ... wait, let's stop being so negative. Truth, it's been a lot of bad luck and bad breaks for the Royals. Five of their 12 losses have been by one run. And while they're 13th in runs scored in the AL, they're middle of the pack in average, on-base and slugging. They just haven't had enough timely hits with runners on base. Usually that corrects itself over time.
The starting pitching has struggled, but there are some good signs. Chen and Hochevar have a combined 26/7 SO/BB ratio and just one home run allowed. Danny Duffy has been throwing some high-octane heat, averaging 95 mph on his fastball. The control is a little wobbly but the velocity is as good as any left-hander in baseball. So maybe there's hope.
After all, it's just two weeks. It's too early to give up.
Too early to give up on a decent season, yes. But not too early to give up on them as contenders. They're not good enough now, and weren't good enough a month ago. Chen's actually pitched well, and so has Duffy; he might be one of those extremely talented young pitchers who struggles in his first go-around but somehow figures things out over the winter. Greg Maddux was like that. But the starting pitching was never there, and won't be this season. The Royals have only two real good pitching prospects in the minors; one (Mike Montgomery) is struggling in triple-A and the other (Jake Odorizzi) is still in double-A.
Still, it's been a weird season. As Schoenfield pointed out, the Royals are 0-5 in one-run games. They're also 0-3 in two run games. Which isn't to suggest they've played a lot better than their record; thanks to losing three blowouts, they actually do have the run differential of a 5-10 team, which would be third-worst in the American League (ahead of only the Twins and, gulp, the Red Sox).
Weirder yet, two of the Royals' best hitters have been Humberto Quintero and Yuniesky Betancourt ... who figure to rank among the Royals' worst hitters before too terribly long. Meanwhile, phenom Eric Hosmer has been terrible after hitting brilliantly in spring training, and Alex Gordon -- easily the Royals' best player last season -- has been terrible, too. Really, Billy Butler's the only every-day player who's doing roughly what he's supposed to do (which is hit for average and mid-range power).
So yes, it's been weird and non-representative and it's been just a few weeks and yes there's hope. Still, the fan in me can't shake the feeling that this organization still hasn't found its way. The Royals' two second basemen, Betancourt and Chris Getz, have combined for three walks this season. Meanwhile, Johnny Giavotella, who was supposedly the Royals' Second Baseman of the Future before he got sent back to the minors, has drawn nine walks in 16 triple-A games. But walks are considered irrelevant by this organization, and have been for some decades.
And then there's Jonathan Sanchez.
It just never made any sense, thinking these Royals were going to vault from 71-91 last season into contention this season. There's just still so much work to be done, particularly regarding the pitching rotation. This team might be decent in 2013 or '14, if most of the pitching prospects stay healthy and develop quickly.
Hey, it could happen. It's too early to give up. It's always too early to give up.