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Royals Funk Continues, Indians Pull Away

Just an ugly series against the division leading Indians has done a lot to show the Royals’ true colors over the last two days. When they went to Detroit and lost both games of the abridged two-game series, it didn’t look like they were overmatched in any way. It looked like they ran into excellent pitching during a time when their bats were slumping. Then the Indians came to town and you know what happened next. The Royals got absolutely destroyed on Monday and then were down 3-0 before they ever had a chance yesterday. I do believe that had Sean O’Sullivan not put the Royals in the hole in the top of the first that the game may have been different. Unfortunately he did and it wasn’t and the Royals lost by a much more respectable score of 7-3.

It’d be hard to blame the Royals for struggling with focus over the last two days as Monday’s game just had some weird circumstances. There was the news of Paul Splittorff’s illness becoming public that may or may not have had any ramifications on the team’s thoughts. Then there was the fact that their starter went just 1/3 of an inning before leaving with an injury. And then there was the fact that Vin Mazzaro should have been out of his 10 run inning with no damage done if not for Melky Cabrera’s lack of defensive ability. I shouldn’t blame things entirely on Melky, though any of the other center fielders on the roster would have prevented any runs from scoring.

Now it’s time to move on. Players often use the cliché of how great it is that there’s a game the next day to wash away the thoughts of the day before. Well, the Indians have left town after successfully destroying the Royals team psyche and the Rangers roll in. With the Rangers comes the promise of yet another prize prospect from the best farm system in baseball. Danny Duffy will make the start tonight against the American League champions in front of what will be a nice walk-up crowd. It won’t quite rival what we saw from Hosmer probably, but he was and is a better prospect and that game was on a Friday night of a homestand the Royals were 5-1 on at that point.

I’m excited to get a chance to see Duffy in action outside of an exhibition like the Future’s Game last month. I think there’s a very real (and slightly sad) chance that he is the ace of the Royals staff before ever throwing a pitch. I wouldn’t give him the ball in Game 1 of the World Series just yet, but if you asked who the Royals best pitcher right now is, Duffy’s name would potentially be the consensus. We’ve talked a little about Duffy in this space, but what he’s done in Omaha this year has been very impressive. He’s put up a solid 3.00 ERA with a FIP pretty close to match at 3.26. He’s striking out over a batter per inning and walking just 2.5 per nine. He’s been a little stingier with the home run ball than we can probably expect moving forward, but he hasn’t been lucky as evidenced by a .327 Batting Average on Balls In Play. Duffy throws a fastball in the low 90s that can touch the mid-90s when he needs it as well as a very good changeup, and I believe a slider.

The one problem with having Duffy in the big league rotation today is that they’re going to have to monitor his innings over the course of the season. Because of his decision to walk away from baseball last year, he wasn’t able to accumulate innings to get to about 150 or 160 where the Royals probably would have liked him last year. Also, due to stricter pitch counts in the minors, Duffy has only thrown 36 innings in his seven starts this year. The Royals need someone who can chew up at least six innings while he’s out there, so that’ll be something to watch for as often pitchers command isn’t great in the early going of their Major League debut. He does catch a bit of a break as the Rangers are without both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. Their offense is still quite good, but it’s not elite without those two. I look for a nice debut tonight. I think we’ll see six innings, two runs, five hits, five strikeouts and three walks.

I have to admit that I got a little overly frustrated last night when watching the Royals bats flail up there against Carlos Carrasco. The thing that got me the angriest was in the early going when Hosmer tripled to center and Betemit was up with one out. The Royals needed a run in the worst way both for the game and for their confidence. Betemit swings at the first pitch and it was just an awful one to swing at. He ended up hitting a little chopper back to the mound (I think) and Hosmer was stuck on third. In that situation, you cannot be swinging at the first pitch if it is something down. I probably got a little too animated and I apologize to the wonderful people who fed me and were forced to listen to me rant and rave. Still, though, that kind of baseball is unacceptable. Betemit is one of the last guys I’d expect that from as he always has such excellent at bats.

I think and hope that the Royals are just in a bit of a team funk right now. We all knew the starting pitching wouldn’t be much to write home about, and it hasn’t been. A 19-1 loss makes everything look much worse. If the Royals had been swept but lost the first game 4-1 and the second game 7-3, this season wouldn’t have a sky falling type feeling. This series coming up is absolutely huge. The Royals need to win four out of their next five if they want any hope of a .500 season. It’s possible, though not terribly probable. I have high hopes that Duffy will get things started off on the right foot tonight.

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