The Royals are playing better, but they still need to improve

Despite a 7-16 record and a recent 12 game losing streak, the Kansas City Royals went 4-3 on their last road trip and are only five games out of first place in the American League Central. And in six of their 16 losses, they only lost by one run. If the Royals went 6-6 instead of 0-12 during their losing streak, they would be 13-10 and leading the A.L. Central. Fans would be talking about how awesome the Royals are instead of how much they stink. The 2012 season has its share of disappointments, but at least the Royals are playing better baseball.

There’s still room for improvement and winning some games at home would be nice. If the 2012 Royals don’t want to turn into the Royals of years gone by, they need to address these issues.

The Royals get a lot of hits, but they don’t score a lot of runs: The Royals as a team are 6th in the American League with 191 hits, 2nd in the A.L. with 49 doubles and 5th in the league with four triples. That’s good. But the Royals are 10th in the league with 20 home runs and 12th in the league with 83 runs. Yes, hits are good, but if you’re not driving in runs, hits only improve a player’s batting average. And speaking of team batting average, the Royals are 5th in the league with a .263 average. Not bad, but hits doesn’t win games, scoring runs win games. But I’m sure the Royals already know that. I think.

Eric Hosmer has a .183 batting average: It’s frustrating when your potential superstar player plays every game and makes Mario Mendoza‘s batting average look good. Hosmer has 17 hits, which is the least among everyday players. Along with Billy Butler, Hosmer does lead the team with five home runs and he’s 2nd on the team with 14 RBI, so at least he’s got the scoring runs thing down. Does his recent struggles mean Hosmer can’t hit? No way. Hosmer is making solid contact when he does hit the ball. The problem is he usually hits it to an opposing player. When Hosmer figures out how to hit ’em where they ain’t, his and the Royals fortunes will improve.

Stolen bases are cool, but being caught stealing is not cool: The Royals are 4th in the A.L. with 14 stolen bases, but they’ve been caught stealing eight times, which is the most in the A.L. At least the Royals lead the league in something. I’m not sure if the batteries in first base coach Doug Sisson’s stopwatch need to be replaced, but if the Royals can’t run any better on the base paths, they need to stay put. There’s nothing wrong with making things happen, but making outs isn’t one of them.

Luke Hochevar and giving up a big inning: Here’s an interesting statistic. If you take away Hochevar’s seven run first inning against the Cleveland Indians and the five run first inning against the Detroit Tigers, Hochevar would have a 3.49 ERA instead of the 7.36 ERA he has now. Fans would be talking about Hochevar finally figuring it out. Instead, fans see the same old Hochevar: He has a tendency to give up a lot of runs in an inning and then pitches lights out in the other innings. It’s Hochevar’s inconsistency that’s frustrated Royals fans since he’s been with the team. The good news is Hochevar hasn’t given up any home runs, but there’s always his next start.

Key players are hurt and aren’t returning soon: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain was supposed to join the Royals last week, but a strained hip flexor during his rehab assignment has set his return back a few weeks. Meanwhile, the Royals called up Jarrod Dyson from AAA Omaha and he’s the starting center fielder.

Catcher Salvador Perez is tentatively set to return around the All-Star break and his recovery is going well, according to the Royals. Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero are doing a serviceable job, but fans have to wonder where the team would be if Perez wasn’t injured.

With the bullpen’s inconsistent performance, the season ending loss of Joakim Soria is being felt. The Royals have shuffled several relievers between Kansas City and Omaha, trying to improve the bullpen. Fun fact: since the Royals called up reliever and Kansas City native Tommy Hottovy, the Royals have gone 4-3. Maybe if the Royals broke camp with Hottovy, they wouldn’t be 7-16. Probably not, but who knows.

The good news is starter Felipe Paulino is back with the Royals and is expected to start this Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees. And next week, reliever Greg Holland is expected to go on a minor-league rehab assignment with AA Northwest Arkansas after recovering from a left rib stress reaction. Both players need to return to their 2011 form if the Royals hope to improve.

The team is playing better and they’re not out of it yet. But the Royals have a challenging stretch of games ahead of them, including a seven game home stand against the always tough Yankees and the resurgent Boston Red Sox. And it doesn’t get any better, with games against the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, teams who are playing well. If the Royals want to get out of the hole they dug themselves into, they need to address these issues and get their key players back.


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