Sunday, April 13, 2008

Royals' Offense Needs a Jump Start

I went to a Storyhill concert last night with my wife -- I bought the tickets in January, and it was my Valentine's gift to her -- so I wasn't able to watch the Royals' 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins, but it doesn't seem like I really missed much.

Kansas City was shut out by the Twins for the second straight game, dropping its record to 6-5, and extending a streak of 26 consecutive innings in which the Royals have failed to score a run. Ouch.

For the first time in several years, the Royals have a solid pitching staff -- both rotation and bullpen -- that seems capable of having a successful season. Through 11 games, Kansas City's 12 pitchers have combined for a 2.82 earned run average to lead the American League. The Royals also lead the league with five saves, two shutouts, 89 hits allowed, and just 31 runs against.

Those figures are certainly the biggest reason behind Kansas City's 6-2 start to the season, but the offense has faltered in the last three games, resulting in the team's first three-game losing streak of the year.

Kansas City's offense ranks dead-last in the A.L. for home runs (4), bases on balls (24), and on-base percentage (.304), while ranking next-to-last in runs scored (33) and slugging percentage (.347).

New manager Trey Hillman has been tinkering with the lineup, trying to find the right combination, but nothing has seemed to work. Right fielder Jose Guillen, who signed a three-year, $36 million contract during the offseason in hopes of bolstering the middle of the Royals' lineup, is the target of many fans' ire.

Guillen, who hit 23 home runs and drove in 99 runs last year for Seattle, is batting just .133 with five RBI, three runs scored, and two doubles. His OPS is a miserable .348, and his OPS+ is -5.

It's difficult to have numbers much worse than Guillen's, but shortstop Tony Pena owns them. After opening the season with a game-winning RBI bloop-single to beat the Tigers in 11 innings, Pena has failed to record a hit. Entering today's game, he is batting .037/.071/.037 with eight strikeouts in 27 at bats.

This is not meant to be a rant about how bad Jose Guillen is. I understand that he has a history of slow starts in April, and that his numbers will eventually rise. You can't keep a player of his caliber out of the lineup, but I just hope that hitting coach Mike Barnett can help Guillen figure things out before he digs himself too big of a hole. Even if Guillen bats .300 over his next 20 at bats, his average would still be just .184, so it will take some consistent hitting to bolster his average.

On a positive note, several Royals players are off to solid starts. Designated hitter Billy Butler (.372), first baseman Ross Gload (.333), left fielder Mark Teahen (.316), and third baseman Alex Gordon (.311) all have plus-.300 averages and have played in all 11 games, while second baseman Mark Grudzielanek is batting .343 over nine games.

Teahen's numbers are most impressive in that group, as he's compiled a line of .316/.435/.526 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run for a 160 OPS+. But Gordon, who leads the team with six RBI, is tied for 28th-best in the A.L in that category.

The Royals will attempt to break out of their offensive funk when they play host to the Twins in the final game of their three-game series today at 1:10 p.m. Hopefully, the offense finds its way to the ballpark.

Mark Teahen Photo Credit: Duane Burleson/AP

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