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The Royals Offense Might Actually Be Good
After getting shut down by a very good pitching performance, the offense bounced back to continue their heater.
At this point, it’s repeating a point made so many times, but the Royals offense should not have been nearly as bad as they were to start the season. Even with all the hard-hit balls and tough-luck outs, they still weren’t good. They were hitting .203/.260/.321. That was good for a wRC+ of 56. To put that in perspective, Nicky Lopez had a 57 wRC+ last year. They were worse than 2022 Nicky! And the final game of that 20-game stretch was getting absolutely dominated by Shohei Ohtani. There is no shame in that, for sure, but they ended that night with three hits, 14 strikeouts and two walks. It felt hopeless.
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They scored 11 the next night and then kind of alternated good games and bad games. Zac Gallen shut them down while he was shutting everyone down and they followed that with a bad game against the Twins. But the next night, they faced Pablo Lopez, who dominated them on Opening Day similarly to Ohtani and they were down big, but started to claw back. They scored six that night.
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Then they scored six or more in all three games against the Orioles. Then 17 runs against the A’s and then started this series against the White Sox by scoring 12 runs. I’ve kept a running tally, but the Royals are now hitting .278/.346/.477 and averaging 5.6 runs per game since April 22 and .302/.372/.559 and averaging an even seven runs per game in May.
This month, the Royals have been the best offense in baseball, at least by wRC+, and have scored the most runs in baseball. But what I think is most interesting is that there isn’t a whole lot saying that they’re in over their heads. In this stretch, they’ve continued to hit the ball hard. I’m sure I wrote this the other day, but when I wrote about them needing to make more contact before we could say they were unlucky I worried the batted ball quality would suffer. But it really hasn’t. And that brings us to last night.
Lance Lynn came into the game having a terrible year. He had a 6.86 ERA and while the secondary stats didn’t paint quite as rough of a picture, he certainly hadn’t been the guy the Royals had seen in previous years. But he was striking out a bunch of hitters and still throwing strikes, which can always be a recipe for success. Plus, he’s had an awful lot of success against the Royals in his career. Add in that they’d been shut down the night before and you were at least curious what they’d do.
We didn’t have to wait long to get an answer. After Bobby Witt Jr. went hunting for the first pitch and flew out, the offense got started. Vinnie Pasquantino hit a rocket into the corner for a double. Then Salvador Perez celebrated his birthday with a rocket into the other corner for a double. MJ Melendez hit a line drive single to get Perez to third, but Edward Olivares hit a little dribbler to the third and Perez was thrown out at the plate.
At this point, they had two on and two outs with just one run in. This was a potential big moment in a game in the bottom of the first inning. You don’t see that often, but I think it can happen in certain situations, and this one qualified. Nick Pratto came up and kept the inning going with a line drive to right to score Melendez. Then a bloop that went off the glove of Elvis Andrus scored the third run and a Michael Massey single scored the fourth. Nate Eaton even walked in the first! And Witt hit into some very tough luck to record the final out with a 109.6 MPH lineout to left on the first pitch. In the end, they scored four runs on six hits and sent 10 batters to the plate.
Another sign of a good offense is that they don’t pack it in after one big inning. They didn’t put together another big frame, but after getting shut down in the second and third, they scored runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh to get to nine total. And, as they’ve done all month, they used the long ball, hitting three of them in the game. They continue to pace the American League for the month.
The first came from Massey, who seems to be locked in.
Then in the fifth, they got a two-run homer from Pratto, who has been fantastic since his recall.
And, finally, it was Olivares to get the Royals to nine runs for the sixth time this season.
It’s just so interesting how the conversation seems to have shifted about this team. I know I recalled this the other day, but when I wrote about the future offense a few weeks ago, I was thinking they needed to add at least two legitimate big league hitters. That may still end up accurate, but the addition of Pratto to the lineup, along with someone from a group of Maikel Garcia, Massey and Olivares stepping up seemingly every night, has changed some of that.
A lineup can have insane star power at the top, but if they don’t have a supporting cast, it’s going to be tough to consistently score runs. You can ask Ohtani or Mike Trout about that. With this club, three players in particular have stepped up quite a bit recently to help give Pasquantino, Perez and Witt (at times) the help that they need to keep rallies going instead of killing them with the limited number of good hitters left on base.
Pratto has hit .400/.478/.625 since he was called back up. The strikeout rate is still a bit high and I think he’s probably a bit more prone to slumping than some others because of his swing and miss issues that can creep up, but his swinging strike rate is down considerably, so maybe I’m wrong. He’s continuing his incredible approach swinging at fewer than a quarter of the pitches he sees outside the zone, but his contact rate is up too. The numbers he’s put up aren’t sustainable, but I think he’s back on the radar as a regular.
Massey has really turned his season around. It sort of started in Anaheim when he picked up his first multi-hit game. He’s hit .340/.429/.447 from that first two-hit day on. But he was still struggling, striking out a lot. He did work his first walk at the end of April (on a pitch clock violation, but the pitch was thrown before it was called and it was ball four either way). He’s hit .429/.552/.857 this month. The sample is way too small, but he’s walked five times. It’s not a coincidence that he’s turned things around right when he started being more selective.
And then there’s Melendez, who has been considered part of the core not to worry about, but he was hitting .150/.257/.267 following the game on April 18. I don’t know where the right spot to draw the line in the sand is with him, but his low point seems as good as any. Anne Rogers wrote about some changes he’s made, but since that game, he’s hit .269/.329/.478. He sort of stopped walking for awhile, but he has now walked in consecutive games, so if he starts adding that back along with how hard he’s continued to hit the ball, that changes the ceiling for the lineup too.
And, again, it’s not just those three. It’s role players actually performing well. Last night it was Matt Duffy, but it’s been Freddy Fermin, Jackie Bradley Jr. and even Hunter Dozier in other nights. So to bring it back to the headline. The Royals offense might actually be good. I think they’re more likely to be somewhere in the middle of what they were to start the year and what they’ve been, but, again, they hit the ball hard and if they’re going to continue to make contact (a 20 percent strikeout rate in the last 18 games is very good in today’s game), they have a chance to keep some semblance of this up and help the team win some games.
This is no surprise based on what we expected when the season started, but wins and losses seem like they’re going to come down to the starting rotation. Given what the Royals have gotten this year, last night had to be considered a success. And the night before too with Jordan Lyles throwing a complete game, even in a loss. But Keller’s night was at least a return to form from earlier in the year. He still walked too many and looked like he might be headed for disaster early. I suppose there’s a way to look this up, but I wonder how many pitchers walk the first two batters and then only give up one run through five.
But Keller did just that. He got a double play in the first before he gave up a run in the second, but actually really settled down after that. His control was still all over the place.
You can see a ton of misses arm-side and up, which I think indicates that he’s just not finishing his pitches. I guess you can classify him as effectively wild when the results are actually good, and maybe there is something to a hitter having no idea where a pitch might be. You see his slider touches all four quadrants. You see his four-seamer does the same. His curve is everywhere. His changeup was actually sort of consistent. But when it works, you almost think there’s a method to the madness. I don’t think there is, though.
What’s so interesting about Keller is that he just doesn’t get hit hard. Okay, that’s not the right way to put it. He does, but he hasn’t really this year outside of his last start. I wrote it in the Weekend in Review, but Keller allowed five extra base hits in his first six starts and then allowed six in his start against the A’s. He didn’t allow any yesterday. They only hit three balls hard among the 12 they put in play against him. His slider even got eight swings and misses (thank you, Luis Robert!).
Where I’m a little confused is what happened to the new Keller? Maybe he’s just lost his new pitches and needs to find a way to get them back, but he threw just eight curves and one sweeper yesterday. He added those pitches for a reason and even though the results yesterday were fine and certainly good enough, I don’t think he can be anything more than occasionally fine without using something new. I guess I appreciate him figuring out what works for him quickly and the slider was working for him, so that’s fine, but I’d really like to see him get back to using the curve and sweeper.
Ultimately, he finds himself lucky. I think he may still be starting if Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch were healthy, but I don’t know that for certain. Now Lynch is close to coming back (probably next week), but Bubic is obviously out for a long time and Ryan Yarbrough is looking at a lengthy absence as well. So Keller gets the chance to keep working it out, which is actually probably for the best for the Royals. If he can keep doing what he did last night, there is a team that will take him at the deadline purely because they need someone to make a start, so they’ll be able to fetch some return. And hey, maybe he gets on track completely and actually brings back a quality prospect or two. A guy can dream.
The weather may impact today’s game, but now it’s Brady Singer’s turn to figure some things out. Like Lynn, he’s been bad, but the underlying numbers are maybe not quite as bad as the results have been. Still, an ERA approaching 9.00 as we’re officially in mid-May is not a good look. I’ll be watching for a more consistent release point and the use of his changeup against a lineup that will likely feature four lefty bats. It’s all about command for Singer, so hopefully for his sake and for the Royals sake, today is the start that gets him back on track against a team he’s had success against in the past.