KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Absolutely, it is far too early to panic if you’re a Royals fan.
Getting overly emotional now, after a 0-2 start, is the NFL equivalent of tossing a shoe through your TV just because your team had to punt on its first series of the first game of the season.
But, let’s not forget that the Royals need to get off to a good start this season, or, at the very least, a so-so start. Too many seasons in the last 20 years have been lost by the end of April.
Last year’s season, for example, was doomed by a 12-game losing streak in early April.
And no one is suggesting the Royals are headed down that road again. However, this is a team that has to get interested early, and keep its suffering fan base interested early.
The Royals’ front office has done its part – securing a starting rotation that looks to be the best in Kansas City in two decades. Now it’s time for the Royals’ players to do their part.
A good start would be at the plate, where already Royals hitters are showing the same signs that plagued them last season – no run production.
One of the more amazing statistics from last season was that the Royals actually beat the White Sox nine of the last 11 times they met — Chicagoans no doubt point to that anomaly as one of the main reasons the White Sox coughed up the division.
It’s particularly head-scratching because the Royals really don’t match up well with the White Sox, who are everything offensively the Royals are not.
The White Sox have the ability to strike quickly with the long ball. They hit 211 homers last season, third best in the league, and a whopping 80 more than the Royals.
That type of quick-strike ability is what Royals skipper Ned Yost longs for, and it is a conversation he brought up repeatedly in the off-season.
“We have the capability of hitting a lot of homers,” Yost said last winter. “Look up and down our lineup and you see guys who have power.”
But for whatever reason, the Royals simply can’t keep pace with the rest of the bombers around the American League.
The two games thus far in Chicago illustrate the gap between the teams. The White Sox won the opener on a home run. They won Wednesday by smashing four home runs.
The Royals? No home runs. In fact, only one ball even reached the wall – Sal Perez’s liner in the first game.
To score, the Royals have to work twice as hard as the White Sox and be twice as efficient when they do get opportunities.
But through two games, the Royals, like they did last year, have struggled to come up with the big hit. So far, 13 Royals hitters have come up with men in scoring position and only two have come up with hits — both singles, one an infield hit and one a blooper to right field.
The Royals had a chance to punch a hole in Monday’s opener when they loaded the bases with one out in the early going against Chris Sale. But Billy Butler struck out and Mike Moustakas popped out.
Similarily, the Royals had a chance in the seventh inning Wednesday when, trailing just 4-2, Eric Hosmer reached on a two-base error and went to third on Lorenzo Cain’s blooper to right. But with no outs, Jeff Francoeur, needing just to put the ball in play to score a run, struck out on three pitches. After Miguel Tejada drew a walk, Alex Gordon flied out to short left. Hosmer held at third. And then Alcides Escobar flied out to right.
And here’s what really stung: After all that drama in the top of the seventh, White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez whacked the second pitch he saw into the left-field seats making it 5-2 Chicago.
That illustrates the gap between the White Sox and Royals. That is the quick-strike offense Yost dreams of.
It has been suggested that the White Sox have it easier because they play in a homer-friendly park. But it was the same park the Royals played in the last two games.
And Yost, searching for answers, began to suggest the chilly conditions had something to do with icing the Royals’ offense when he suddenly, and wisely, caught himself and admitted the conditions were the same for the White Sox. The White Sox didn’t seem affected and reached the seats four times Wednesday.
To his credit, Yost is not nervous about the slow start. He may be frustrated, but he is not panicking.
“We’ll start to hit,” he told reporters in Chicago. “We’ll get on track very quickly.”
I tend to agree. The Royals may not be the Southside Bombers, but they have a group of young hitters who are ready to take the next step in their development and start producing when it really matters.
It’d just be nice if they start doing that fairly soon because for the Royals and their history of slow starts, it matters right now.