By Andrew Perna
Major League Baseball is still shaking from the landmark trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, but we must to do our best to solider on.
The Royals aren’t exactly mediocre at 14 games under .500, but they have been rather consistent this season. They are 19-23 (.452) since the All-Star Game was played at Kauffman Stadium after posting a mark of 37-47 (.440) before the break. They haven’t showed signs of maturing or getting remarkably better as the season has progressed.
That should be cause for some concern.
Kansas City won three of their first five games, then went on a 12-game losing streak that included two extra-inning tilts and six other games decided by two runs or fewer. Age is the easy answer to the struggles in close games and general middling play overall. With an active roster that has an average age of 26.5, the Royals have the youngest team in baseball.
Kansas City is made up entirely of twenty-somethings if you remove Francisley Bueno, Bruce Chen, Jeremy Guthrie and Brayan Pena. Their offensive core, comprised of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, were born in 1990, 1989 and 1988, respectively. Billy Butler, their 2012 All-Star representative and veteran of six Major League seasons, is just 26.
The Royals are incredibly young, but it still feels like they've been in rebuilding mode forever.
With such young talent they will likely have to endure some very mediocre seasons before the likes of Perez, Hosmer and Moustakas are ready to make them playoff contenders. As a team, they are hitting .266/.318/.403 in 2012. They lack patience and above-average power, a necessity in the American League.
Kansas City hasn’t been able to lean on their pitching either. The bullpen has been taxed by short starts, opposing hitters get on base often (1.39 WHIP) and they score as well (4.29 ERA).
There is help coming in the form of left-hander Mike Montgomery (2008 first-rounder), right-hander Jake Odorizzi ( 2008 first-rounder of Milwaukee), outfielders Bubba Starling (2011 first-rounder) and Wil Myers (2009 third-rounder) and 19-year-old third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, but they all need more seasoning and will then have to take their lumps on the big stage.
The Royals haven’t made the playoffs since they won the World Series in 1985. In a run that began in 1976, they made the postseason seven out of 10 years.
A postseason berth may not be in the cards for a few seasons, but general manager Dayton Moore has hung his hat on constructing a franchise that can become a perennial entrant once they finally do. The question remains -- how long will it take?
Pirates On Life Support?
The Pirates advanced to the NLCS in 1992, but haven’t even had a winning record since. They won 79 games in 1997, the closest they have come to .500 in the last 20 years. They entered this week 68-59 and third in the NL Central.
With 35 games left, Pittsburgh is chasing not only a winning season but also a playoff berth. The addition of a second Wild Card in each league has increased their chances of doing so. Still, having lost five of their last six games, the Pirates are showing signs of another late-season collapse.
On Aug. 1, 2011, the Pirates were 54-53 and less than four games back of the Brewers for the division lead. By Aug. 27 they had dropped to eight games below .500 and trailed first-place Milwaukee by 17. They finished 72-90 with a -102 run differential.
With a winning season and possible playoff berth in their sights, the Pirates choked and stumbled to almost a historic degree. In fact, had it not been for the Red Sox and Braves, who did suffer historic 'Game 162' collapses, Pittsburgh would have been this offseason’s punching bag.
This Aug. 1, the Pirates were 60-44 and three games back of the Reds in the division. Less than four weeks later, eight games separate the two teams and Pittsburgh has won just eight of their last 23 games.
To ensure a winning season, the Pirates have to go 14-21 over the last month-plus. Look at their overall record and that seems like a piece of cake, but they have won just 34.7% of their games in August. They will play the Cardinals (three), Reds (six) and Braves (three) in games with major playoff implications. A winning percentage of .347 over the remainder of the schedule plays out to a record of 80-82.
So what has been Pittsburgh’s problem?
In short, it has been both at the plate and on the mound. They are averaging 4.2 runs per game in August after scoring 5.2 runs over June and July. After allowing 4.05 runs over those two months, the Pirates have surrendered 5.08 runs this month.
A winning season is still possible, but after a successful first half of the season the Pirates saw their expectations increase. That could leave them wanting more in October.
Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates