Stale, Banged-up Royals Can't Seem To Get Ahead

Sam Hollingsworth@@SammySportsContributor IIJune 30, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 14:  Billy Butler #16 of the Kansas City Royals stands at the plate against the Cincinnati Reds during the game on June 14, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Leading up to the 2009 Major League Baseball season, a lot of analysts thought the Kansas City Royals had what it would take to win the American League’s Central Division.

A mediocre division and the acquisition of a few position players, along with a solid pitching staff, allowed any baseball fan to think the boys in powder blue had a chance.

And the beginning of the season looked as though those predictions were on the right track.

Starting the team’s 40th season off with a promising April, including the opening of the newly remodeled Kauffman Stadium as well as winning 58 percent of their games, the Royals were able to have a winning month even after losing up-and-coming star third baseman Alex Gordon.

Gordon, who was injured just eight games into the season, suffered a cartilage tear in his right hip and continues to be out until around the All-Star break.

Much of the steam for April’s success came from fiery pitcher Zack Greinke, who let up only one earned run all month and posted an incredible .050 ERA, winning each of his starts, two of which were complete games.

Greinke’s success continued through much of May.  He pitched three complete games and, of the three, only one was a loss. That loss was a 1-0 decision vs. Joe Saunders of the Los Angeles Angels, who also threw a complete game.

The Royals returned all five starters from last year’s pitching staff (Greinke, Gil Meche, Kyle Davies, Horacio Ramirez, and Luke Hochevar), but also tried to bulk up their bullpen without spending too much cash.

They acquired Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz to help out Kansas City’s sole All-Star last season, Joakim Soria. 

And, through April, it appeared to work.

Pitchers kept opponents low-scoring and the offense registered runs. Trey Hillman’s second season as skipper was looking very promising.

But May was a little different.

The Royals lost 17 of their 28 games in May, and, with Gordon already out, lights-out closer Soria soon also headed to the disabled list with a bum shoulder.

Greinke let up a few more earned runs throughout May, but, other than his loss to Saunders and the Angels, he racked up three more wins and his ERA remained under one until the last day of the month.

At first, May looked like it was going to turn out to be better than April after Kansas City hit a season-high six-game win streak in the first week of the month. But, that was immediately followed by a six-game losing streak.

Last year’s breakout star, Mike Aviles, was also placed on the DL at the end of May with a strained forearm too. Aviles has only played 36 games this season and is batting .183 with one home run.

It got worse in June.

The Royals continued to fall, even after getting Soria back. Greinke came down to earth (although his ERA still remains under two), and the team struggled to put runs on the board.

Plus, with Gordon and Aviles still out, injuries were beginning to consume Kansas City’s hopes off its first postseason appearance since the 1980s.

Offseason acquisition Coco Crisp, who the Royals brought in to hold down center field from the Red Sox, was lost for the rest of the season after suffering a shoulder injury of his own.

A team that was once looking ahead at a bright future within their control is now hoping nobody else gets hurt.  They hope that those who are hurt and able to return this year do so fast and make significant contributions.

Mike Jacobs was also picked up in the offseason to replace the aging Mark Grudzielanek at first base, and, although Jacobs hasn’t blown the doors off of Kauffman Stadium yet, he’s assumed the role in a progressive way.

His potential there is undeniable. 

The Royals dragged May’s four-game win streak into June and turned it into an eight-game skid, and it seemed they were headed right back to where they were last year: the AL Central cellar.

K.C. remained under .500 in June and a large part of the blame could be put on injuries. With June coming to a close, the Royals are currently in fourth, ahead of only the struggling Cleveland Indians.

Kansas City showed promise in various situations through the first three months of the season, including interleague play, filling voids left by multiple injured players and, of course, pitching.

But, it seems like the injury-plagued team celebrating its 40th birthday may be in too deep of a hole to get out and prosper.

Undoubtedly, the team has been able to learn a lot of from its mishaps already this year, and, although they seemed to be on the right track the past couple of years, injuries can ruin any team the way they have ravaged this one.

The biggest positive characteristic about the Royals is their ability to look ahead with promise, and that’s all guys can do for now.

Even with players like Gordon and Aviles back in the lineup contributing after the break, it’s going to take some time for them to get back into the normal swing of things.

Gordon’s hip was a devastating injury, as evidenced by his time out (three to four monts) and, like most of the injuries suffered by Kansas City players, it has foreshadowed how the rest of the season is going to unfold for the Royals.

Of course, there is still a chance the Royals step up their play following the All-Star festivities, but it’s not going to be easy for them to win even the so-so AL Central. Making a run at the playoffs isn't impossible, but it's pretty close.

But they aren’t giving up anytime soon.

Fans should expect to see Kansas City come out and work its hardest every night — and hopefully it will pick up a couple more vital win streaks before the mid-July All-Star break — but this year, that's not going to be enough

A couple wins here and there will make a huge difference, but they need to take advantage of series played against weak teams, like recent interleague play vs. the Astros and Pirates that could have easily been sweeps (although the Royals swept the Reds earlier this month), and struggling division opponents (they are plenty).

Other than that, Hillman's men just need to remain focused and hope that when their roughed up lineup begins to return, players like Gordon are able to positively contribute.

And hopefully, they do.


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