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Weekend in Review: Mondesi Hurting (Again), Embarrassing Weekend and Job Security
Not many highlights in a truly terrible weekend of baseball for the Royals.
Who among us hasn’t said they just have to get away for a weekend? Knowing that, how can we blame the Royals offense for taking a vacation this weekend with the Cardinals in town? I, myself, wish I had taken some time away from the stadium this weekend with that throng of fans taking over Kauffman Stadium in one of my least favorite series of the year for the city. I’m going to get to that in a bit after the recaps of the games, but it’s pretty bad. The Royals had such an entertaining first two games of the series with the Yankees, but starting with Brady Singer’s three runs allowed in the first on Wednesday afternoon, the Royals have held a lead at the end of just one half inning. They’ve been outscored 27-8. Of those eight runs, they’ve trailed by at least seven runs at the start of the inning in which they scored five of them.
Not great! So let’s get to something a little bit less cheerful than that.
Mondesi Pulled Off His Rehab Assignment
In my opinion, there are a couple of stories here with Adalberto Mondesi’s rehab getting stopped due to tightness in the oblique he’s working his way back from. I’m going to start with the perception side of it. Since the beginning of time, some fans have taken the opportunity to deride players who get hurt. We’ve seen it in Kansas City with Mike Sweeney and now Adalberto Mondesi, and others. On the other side of the parking lot, we’ve recently seen it with Sammy Watkins.
And I get it. Watching good players from your favorite team get hurt really stinks, but the idea that they’re not trying hard enough or are some of the names you see players being called who do suffer from more than their share of injuries is generally just ridiculous. Yes, there’s the occasional operation shutdown like with Juan Gonzalez back in the day, but generally, these players want nothing more than to be out there and contributing. Putting in your two cents regarding their fortitude or anything else adds literally nothing to the conversation. If this bothers you and you feel like I’m talking about you or attacking you, then do better. Calling athletes names, specifically derogatory names, because they have trouble staying healthy is ridiculous to me. Again, if you think I’m calling you out, I am.
But that said, it is incredibly frustrating when players can’t stay healthy and it leads to questions about what to do with them moving forward. Unfortunately, the Royals aren’t really talking about how serious this is for Mondesi. Tightness is so vague that there’s really not much way for us to know just how long he might be out. Did they take him off his rehab because the clock was ticking (he only gets 20 days) and he only needs a couple more days, but they wanted to reset the rehab clock? Or is this the sort of thing that sets him back far enough that he won’t be ready to go for another week or two or even more? I have no clue, which is unfortunate.
Dayton Moore already spoke a couple weeks ago about how they couldn’t count on Mondesi to play every day next season. It’s hard to argue with that, and it gets even harder by the day. But the problem is what do you do with him? As I’ve said in the past, the Royals are pretty well covered at shortstop if and when Mondesi goes down with both Nicky Lopez and Bobby Witt Jr. likely to be at the big league level next season, but that doesn’t mean that you want to be moving guys around constantly.
I’ve seen some suggest you just move on, but that’s a terrible idea. You’re not going to release a guy who has shown the talent that Mondesi has. While he’s only been healthy enough to play 10 games this season, before this year, he’d played in a higher percentage of games since this 2018 callup than Lorenzo Cain did in his first few seasons. Is this the aberration and that’s the norm? If so, you’re talking about someone who you probably hope for 130 games but are okay with 100. If he plays like he did this year for 100 games, he’s still a star. But is anyone trading for his 10-game pace over 100 games? No, of course not. So the only offers the Royals will get for him are offers that simply aren’t good enough to trade a guy who won’t make much more than the roughly $2.5 million he makes this season.
No, the move is to keep him, let the guys who can play in place of him play and find a spot for Mondesi moving forward. The very best case scenario for him is that he opens up next year healthy and can stay on the field through the break, playing 80ish games. Assuming he regresses some, but is still solid, then you gauge the trade market on a player who has two and a half years of team control. But until that point, there’s nothing that can be done other than be frustrated and thankful that the Royals have a legitimate top 10 prospect waiting in the wings and a perfectly adequate short-term solution to handle shortstop in the interim.
But seriously, all of that considered, I beg of you to stop questioning players’ character. I don’t just mean in this case. I mean in general. I don’t mean to sound like I’m riding a high horse, but I didn’t think much of the personal side of the game until I had a chance to be in the clubhouse for the first time a few years ago. It definitely has changed the way I’ve looked at the game. Okay, off my soapbox and now to talk about some truly bad baseball.
Oof. Like last weekend, I’m not going to make you read too much about these games, but I do have a few thoughts from each one.
Friday - Cardinals 6, Royals 0
Oof again. Sometimes you run into an outstanding pitcher with his good stuff. It’s hard to accept that because so often we’re fed lines that the pitcher was great and the Royals couldn’t do anything about it, but in this one, Jack Flaherty was legitimately fantastic in his first start since May 31. And we obviously should have expected it. He’s dominated the Royals throughout his whole career.
But what I didn’t expect was Mike Minor to be so good early. He held the Cardinals hitless for the first 3.1 innings. He was throwing harder in the first inning than he had in awhile (but that didn’t carry over), and he wasn’t getting a ton of swings and misses, but he was getting the Cardinals to look at a lot of strikes, but in the fourth inning, he left two pitches in too good a part of the plate and gave up back-to-back home runs to Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill.
Yeah, those’ll fly out. He ended up giving up a run in the fifth inning as well and ultimately finished with three runs allowed in six innings. I know there’s a lot out there not loving Minor this season, but giving up three runs in six innings should at least give the team a chance. But with the way the Royals offense looked all weekend, it was over the second Arenado connected in the fourth.
For the offense, they didn’t have a runner in scoring position until Salvador Perez doubled in the seventh. He didn’t advance, so they didn’t get a runner to third until the eighth. They got their first two guys on and Emmanuel Rivera hit a fly ball to center that got Hunter Dozier to third, but Jarrod Dyson struck out. Then a Whit Merrifield walk loaded the bases for Nicky Lopez, who ended up flying out on a 3-2 pitch, so the opportunity was gone and so was this game.
Saturday, Cardinals 9, Royals 4
Double oof. Remember when I said that sometimes a pitcher gets way too much credit because of a bad offense? That’s what I think happened with Jon Lester in this one. He just didn’t impress me at all, but he kept the Royals generally quiet. He threw 30 four-seam fastballs and averaged 88.9 MPH. Royals hitters swung at 14 of them and didn’t miss a single one. I’m not saying that you can’t be successful like that, but, well, yeah, typically you’re not going to be successful like that.
And the Royals hit eight of them foul and put six of them in play. They got three hits, but they couldn’t get anything on any of them, topping out on their exit velocity on them at 95.7 MPH. They did get their only lead of the series with a run in the bottom of the fourth inning, but that lead went away within about 10 minutes when the Royals gave up two in the top of the fifth.
Offensively, Michael A. Taylor did have three hits and Merrifield, Lopez and Hanser Alberto each had two, so there’s that. But one thing that really bothered me came in the sixth inning when Ryan O’Hearn pinch hit for Rivera. That bothered me because the Royals have said they want to get a look at Rivera, and they are basically doing that at the expense of getting a look at Edward Olivares. I think there are ways to see both, of course, but that’s another story for another day. My issue is why are you pinch hitting for him in a game situation if the name of the game is evaluation? That really, really bothered me. And then O’Hearn lined out, which led to four innings of the broadcasters talking him up for no good reason. Again, another story, another day, but it’s so frustrating to hear.
The numbers for Brad Keller are whatever with four runs allowed in 6.2 innings, but two of them were unearned and I thought he looked almost as good as he’s looked all season. He had eight strikeouts and 16 total swings and misses throughout the game. Maybe the most impressive is that he had a 35 percent whiff rate on his four-seam fastball. That’s the third highest whiff percentage on his four-seamer in a game where he’s thrown it at least 30 percent of the time. Look at this movement:
And look at him just dotting the corner:
He was putting the fastball where he wanted it and that’s not something we’ve seen from him very much. Keller, like Minor, has taken a lot of flack this season, and I get it, but when you see a big guy in the mid-90s with his slider, it’s easy to dream on what he could be. I have my concerns about his pitching coach, as you all know, but Keller has a chance to be very fun if he can finally get the command together.
Sunday - Cardinals 7, Royals 2
Triple oof. Kris Bubic was…bad. He went 1.1 innings, gave up a couple homers and seven runs and nine hits. I have very little to add. He did get some swings and misses, but this was one of those games that I honestly think you throw away and never think about again. Some games are learning experiences and others are experiences to forget.
On the plus side, the Royals bullpen went 7.2 scoreless innings and gave up just three hits while striking out eight and walking one. The group was Domingo Tapia, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, Jake Brentz and Scott Barlow, so, uh, good for them.
And let’s take a look at all the offensive highlights:
Yep, that’s it. At least it was a good one! Perez became the 13th Royals player to hit 30 home runs in a season and it was the 14th individual 30-home run season (Danny Tartabull did it twice). He’s on pace for 41.5, so unless they start counting doubles as half homers, let’s say he’s on pace for 41. That would be pretty fun.
How Close to a Change
I alluded to this a few weeks ago when I did a mailbag regarding the job security of Dayton Moore, but I want to talk about it a little bit more because I had a realization I absolutely hated when I was at the game yesterday. Sitting in a sea of red at Kauffman Stadium, it hit me more than ever before that the reason it was so red was because Royals fans weren’t buying tickets. I’m not here to shame any Royals fans for not buying tickets. I don’t blame you one bit. The cost to park your car exceeds the value of the product on the field to so many and that’s before even buying a ticket.
And who is to blame for that? In some ways, nobody. But in many ways (most ways?), the construction of this roster has led the team to the difficult position they’re in today. What I had heard a few weeks ago wasn’t so much that Moore was in jeopardy of losing his job but rather that the new ownership group was still evaluating him. And that’s perfectly fair. Their first season with the team was the pandemic-shortened season, so how much could they really learn with that small of a schedule and that weird of a setting? And now they’re in their first full season. I pegged them for 76 wins. PECOTA, I believe, had them around 71 or 72 wins. They’re on pace for 68. That’s really not that far off from projections. If they win seven of 10, hardly a scorching hot streak, they’d be back on pace for 72.
And coming off that shortened weird year, I think we all knew there might be some weird things happening, which is why I totally understand probably not making any real moves (other than shaking up the coaching staff) after 2021. But I think about weekends like this past one where the Royals were both wholly uncompetitive on the field and the stands were, at best, 50/50 with the opponent’s fans, and I wonder a little if an ownership group doesn’t see that combination is incredibly damning for a front office that has taken this franchise to the pinnacle but also has presided over what will be an 11th losing season in 15 full years of running the franchise.
The argument for Moore and his regime for more than half a decade now has been that they won the World Series. My argument is that, unless you’re really going to embrace tanking, you should at least be approaching a 75-win pace by that fourth year after you tore it all down. My argument is that this front office seems to have a skewed sense of what players can do and has for quite some time. Misevaluations hurt and have hurt for awhile. And on their own, they don’t mean much. Releasing Brian Goodwin and signing Lucas Duda is generally meaningless for a 2019 team going nowhere. But when you start to add them up, it gets to be a lot. Too much, in my opinion.
The way this season ends can absolutely change some things and what the organization has done with their hitting development is nothing short of spectacular. But this front office is absolutely on the clock in 2022, and they absolutely should be. Me personally? I want new blood. I think 15 years is too long for anyone to be in charge of anything. New ideas need to come in, new voices need to be heard. But I do believe that John Sherman is serious about winning baseball in Kansas City, and I personally don’t believe it will happen consistently with this front office. I’d love to be wrong, but I wonder if this weekend didn’t really get them thinking beyond what was already circulating in their heads.
After losing four in a row and basically being non-factors in all four games, the Royals get to welcome in the Houston Astros. All they have is the second best record in the American League and second best run differential in baseball. They miss Lance McCullers, but it’s a four-game series. They’ll see everyone else including Zack Greinke, which is pretty fun. The Royals have risen up at times this season. They are 14-12 against teams currently leading the division, which is surprising, but also they’ve only faced three division leaders so far. Let’s just say I wouldn’t bet on the Royals this week, but if they somehow split this series, I also won’t be that surprised. The series will start with Carlos Hernandez, Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer, so at least it’s some of the interesting young arms getting tested.