Sunday, April 26, 2009

Royals Need Aviles' Bat to Come to Life

Kansas City has had the pitching and defense it needs to win games this season. But the offense? It leaves much to be desired.

Prior to Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers, the Royals led the American League in runs allowed, runs allowed per game, complete games, shutouts, hits allowed, earned runs allowed, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings, fewest errors, double plays turned, and fielding percentage. Yet, three weeks into the season, Kansas City is 9-9 after today's loss to Detroit.

Every Royals fan knows that three of those losses hang on the shoulders of Kyle Farnsworth, who has not exactly lived up to the two-year, $9 million free agent deal he inked during the offseason. Farnsworth's inability to hold leads has stirred the ire of Kansas City's faithful from coast-to-coast, and hopefully, manager Trey Hillman has finally realized (or has been told) that Farnsworth is not the guy to call upon late in close games.

But, more than anything, it's Kansas City's lack of offense early this season that has led to the .500 record. The Royals entered today's game ranked first only in triples, thanks to Coco Crisp's league-leading total of three. But K.C. ranks last, or next-to-last, in the following categories: runs scored, runs per game, at bats, hits, stolen bases, and batting average.

It's certainly not fair to focus on one player for the Royals' offensive woes, as one player could not make much of a dent in the team's deficiencies, but Mike Aviles' struggles sure come to mind when thinking about the team's lack of offense.

One year after taking the American League by storm, Kansas City's shortstop is having a nightmarish "sophomore" season. In 2008, Aviles batted .325/.354/.480 in 102 games after a late-May call-up from Omaha, with 136 hits, 68 runs scored, 51 runs batted in, 27 doubles, four triples, and 10 home runs. Aviles had 39 multiple-hit games, coming up with more than one hit an impressive 38.2 percent of the time.

And this year? Aviles entered this afternoon's game batting an ugly .169/.180/.203, with only two multi-hit games, four RBI, three runs scored, two doubles, and no home runs. He had collected one hit in his past 20 at bats.

This scares Royals fans, as they've seen this act before. Angel Berroa was the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 2003, and was never the same. Tony Pena Jr.? Well, he's Tony Pena Jr. In order to be successful this season, the Royals need to have a productive bat from Aviles.

Because, if Aviles can't be close to the player he was in 2008, when he was named the Royals' Player of the Year and finished fourth in the A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting, then it's either TPJ or Willie Bloomquist at shortstop, and I don't think there are many K.C. fans out there that want that.

But there might be a light at the end of this, slump. With the Royals trailing the Tigers, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth today, Aviles came to the plate having just one single in his past 23 at bats. Although I really wish there had been a runner on base at the time, Aviles hit his first home run of 2009 into the Tigers' bullpen, cutting the lead to 3-2.

Now that is the Mike Aviles the Royals have been missing. Enough with this Angel Berroa/TPJ impersonation. We want the 2008 version of Aviles back. Hopefully, Aviles' final plate appearance this afternoon is the first sign of life in a desperately-missed bat in the Royals' lineup.
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