Opening loss a Royal downer…
Opening Day was… well… disappointing.
The Royals’ bullpen unraveled in the seventh inning of a 7-1 loss to the Twins on Monday, and the offense never threatened to mount any sort of a rally.
First off, let’s keep things in context. The Royals have finished .500 or better in 22 seasons, and 13 of those seasons began with a loss.
Five of their nine playoff seasons started with a defeat.
So, it’s definitely silly to read too much into the pomp, circumstance and excitement of Major League Baseball’s curtain-raiser.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore potential warning signs.
It was a little unsettling when the Royals went 22 innings without scoring near the end of spring training, and Monday’s box score won’t quell those concerns.
They managed just three hits against ex-Royal Ervin Santana, with their only run coming on a Mike Moustakas homer.
Alex Gordon hit the ball hard twice, but finished 1-for-4. Lorenzo Cain drew a walk in the seventh inning and represented the lead run when he reached second base, but was stranded.
A shift in approach might be partly to blame.
The Royals have made power a point of emphasis, adding Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss to their roster this offseason.
On one hand, it makes sense. The Royals ranked dead last in the American League with 147 home runs in 2016. On the other, small-ball was the foundation of a pennant winning team in 2014 (when they were last in homers and ninth in runs scored) and a World Series champion in 2015 (when they were 14th in homers, but sixth in runs scored).
The downside of this philosophical shift could be seen after Cain reached second. Eric Hosmer struck out while swinging at what appeared to be ball four. Salvador Perez also went down after swinging at a pitch outside the zone.
Instead of keeping the line moving, the Royals were flailing away.
An adjustment period should be expected as Hosmer, Perez and others try to get into a groove, but it comes when the bullpen is also in flux.
A bloop single and a late throw to first on a sacrifice bunt put reliever Matt Strahm in a bind and he couldn’t work his way out. Travis Wood added to the misery, walking two batters with the bases loaded and then giving up two singles.
Again, growing pains shouldn’t set off a panic.
The pieces for an effective bullpen are available, but the Royals can’t afford to be overly patient in a year when core players are pending free agents.
Somebody needs to step up fairly soon if fans want to stop squirming.
Let’s close with a little more context: According to Kurtis Seaboldt of 810 WHB in Kansas City, Monday marked the Royals’ third-worst loss on Opening Day.
They lost 11-2 to Detroit in 2005 and went on to finish 56-106. They were beaten 13-5 by Baltimore in 1982 and ended up 90-72.
What does it all mean? Maybe nothing. It’s just not very reassuring.