As Astros complete sweep of Royals, fans left to wonder 'What's Next?'
Just nine days ago, the Kansas City Royals were coming off a thrilling comeback win over the Baltimore Orioles and were in search of their third straight win. With the Chicago White Sox coming to town, at least two out of three wins seemed to be a lock. In the series opener, the Royals quickly jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead and they appeared primed to climb up to two wins over .500 with a very winnable stretch of games still on the horizon. Just for a minute, it seemed like it was something that even the Royals couldn't screw up.
Of course, the Royals would go on to lose that game, as well as that series. The White Sox blown lead triggered the dreaded ‘May collapse’ that we’ve come to expect annually as Royals fans. The team continues to find a lower ‘rock bottom’, though the hypothetical 'rock bottom' low would be getting swept by the worst team in baseball. That’s exactly what the Royals completed on Wednesday afternoon, as the Houston Astros downed Kansas City 9-3 to lose for the seventh time in this nine-game stretch. The Royals were outscored 21-5 in a series that featured a total attendance number of 67,000. Throughout the entire three-game series, Kansas City never led against the lowly Astros. All five of their runs occurred when they were trailing by at least five, and as you can expect, there have never been more questions than there are right this moment at Kauffman Stadium.
I’d love to be super unoriginal and make a reference to Groundhog Day, which is the ultimate metaphor for being a Royals fan. However, nothing about Wednesday’s loss, or the entire series for that matter, was anything other than what we’ve come to expect from this franchise. The offense struggled and the pitching continued their painful regression. The Royals made yet another no-name pitcher look like a Cy Young candidate. They had just seven hits, though three went for extra bases, giving them a total of five for the entire series – against the Astros. The lone bright spot of the day was Brett Hayes, who snapped an 0-28 start to the season by singling in the fifth inning. In his next at bat, Hayes launched his first home run into the left-field bullpen. Here we are in the eighth year of Dayton Moore’s tenure, and the backup catcher with two hits on the season has as many home runs as Eric Hosmer. Just think about that for a few minutes.
Danny Duffy had his worst outing of 2014, allowing six runs on seven hits and a whopping five walks. After not allowing a home run in 67 straight innings dating back to 2012, he has now given up four in his last two starts. His 4+ innings match his fewest total in a start since September 2 of last season. Duffy remains a very promising youngster who, when he’s on, dazzles at times with unhittable stuff, but his inability to throw strikes continues to plague him. Tying it into this rough stretch, Royals pitching has surrendered at least six runs in five of the last nine games (55%). In comparison, the same squad allowed six or more runs in just nine of their first 43 games (21%). I do have confidence that the pitching squad will revert to April form, but considering the offenses the Royals are getting ready to clash with, I sure hope it happens fast.
The real takeaway from one of the most deflating series in recent memory is a question we've been asking for 28 years - "what happens next"? The Royals are watching their ‘all-in’ year slip through their fingers, having dropped to a season-worst four games under .500. The next 12 games are daunting with four games each against the red-hot Kevin Seitzers, Cardinals and Yankees. Everybody on social networks is calling for hitting coach Pedro Grifol’s head, but how many hitting coaches are going to be scapegoats to cover up the fact that maybe these guys just can’t hit the freaking baseball? Seriously - how many hitting coaches have been hired and fired in the Dayton Moore era? Forget that, how many have been hired to instruct this group of prospects, since 2011 or so? Grifol probably needs to (and likely will) go, but who could legitimately step right in and get this group of powerless single machines to consistently hit for power? This year, George Brett won’t be willing to return again and work his magic that worked (somewhat) last year. As bad as the Jack Maloof-instructed hitters were in the first two months of 2013, Royals fans would kill for that type of offense right now. That should tell you how bad it is.
Grifol will likely be the first/next to go, but the seat has to be getting hotter for Ned Yost and, particularly, Dayton Moore. Yost will likely be the second scapegoat, perhaps receiving the axe after the season ends if the Royals can’t turn things around. Ned Yost has plenty of faults, but the people who think this team is a mismanaged powerhouse have some problems of their own. If you want to fire Ned Yost, that’s fine with me as long as you have a willing upgrade waiting in the wings, which the Royals don’t. It's for that reason that I am not an advocate of firing Ned Yost, and would like to see the pitchforks and torches aimed more in the direction of the man who has put this lackluster team together.
Houston came in and showed Kansas City exactly how you rebuild. From what I saw, the Astros are a team that could really make some noise in the next few years. They have some very talented young hitters (George Springer, the guy Dayton took Bubba Starling in front of, homered again by the way. He now has six home runs in the last six games – more than any Royal has this year), and they’re definitely trending in the right direction. Dayton Moore has had eight years, and all he’s been able to accomplish is assembling a "great farm system" and one winning season. Baring a miraculous offensive turnaround, it’s hard to see even David Glass not pulling the trigger on Dayton Moore after 2014 ends. This was a season in which everything was supposed to come together. Instead, everything is rapidly falling apart, and the worst-case scenario for Royals fans has come to reality yet again – the players who made up the ‘greatest farm system ever’ aren’t actually that good. They’re just not. It doesn’t matter who your hitting coach or manager is, these kids just aren’t very good. It pains me to say it, but it’s appearing to be more and more true every single day.
Up next: the Royals will head up north to play four games with the white-hot Toronto Blue Jays. In case you hadn't heard, Kevin Seitzer, who severed as Royals hitting coach from 2009-2012, now works with the Blue Jays. His offense has hit a major league-leading 73 home runs, while the Royals sit on 21. Kansas City is entering a stretch against teams that know how to plate quite a few runs, so these next 12 games will decide whether the Royals can get up and get back into contention, or if they'll be buried once again before the official first day of summer.