Zack Greinke has been a revelation thus far in 2009 and the rest of the Kansas City Royals pitching staff has been quite good also.
As Greinke's 1-0 loss to the Angels last Saturday night illustrates, this Royals team will need to find some consistent offense if it hopes to contend.
After starting the month of May by scoring forty-two runs in six games, Kansas City has since scored just seven in their last four contests.
Let's take a look at how the current lineup grades out and what needs to happen for the Royals to get enough offense to support a pitching staff that has the second best earned run average in the American League.
The Royals traded for Coco Crisp to play center field and bat leadoff, which is exactly what he has done for all but one game this season. Crisp currently sports a solid .800 OPS and has walked 23 times this season.
On average, Coco is seeing 4.05 pitches per plate appearance and parlayed the ability to work pitchers into a .369 on-base percentage. Throw in eight stolen bases and 14 extra base hits and it is easy to see the contribution that Crisp is giving the Royals.
While his .241 batting average is low, much of that can be attributed to an unlucky .265 BABIP.
GRADE - A
For five seasons, David DeJesus has been the most consistent performer in the Royals' lineup. His on-base percentage has been between .351 and .364 all five seasons and his OPS has been above the league average in all but one.
This season, however, the move from leadoff to batting second and from centerfield to left has seemed to throw DeJesus into a funk at the plate. Through Sunday, David was hitting just .224/.278/.362, while striking out at a much higher rate than previous seasons and walking less.
Some of this can be explained by a very low (for DeJesus) BABIP of just .250. Over his career, David has posted BABIP .320 or above in four of his five campaigns. Given that, there is hope that DeJesus will rebound to his normal production levels.
For now, however, GRADE - D
Mark Teahen started the season at second base, but slid over to third (his natural spot on the diamond) when Alex Gordon went down with hip surgery two weeks into the season.
After a breakout 2006 season, Teahen has endured two disappointing years which coincided with a switch to rightfield and then to left and ultimately back to right.
Back at third, for now, Mark has ripped the ball with regularity, posting an .861 OPS with four home runs. Teahen's .386 on-base percentage is second among regulars on the team and it appears that he will be occupying the third spot in the batting order all summer.
Jose Guillen has an on-base percentage of .385 and only one less walk than strikeouts. If you think that is going to last, then I have some shares of Bear Stearns I want to sell you.
After a stint on the disabled list in April, Guillen hit two home runs in his second game back, but only one since. A career hacker at the plate, Guillen currently has a walk rate that is double of any other season.
The home runs will come, the walks will drop and Jose will continue to hurt this team with his very limited range in right field.
For now, however, this column is about offense and the season thus far. GRADE - B
The Royals have been waiting for Billy Butler to hit in the majors as he did at each and every stop in the minors and now, it appears as though Billy is about to do so.
After a terrible start to the season, Butler has gone on a tear and raised his overall line up to .284/.371./.431/.802 and hit his first two home runs of the season.
While Butler will never be a monster home run hitter, he will be a guy who can routinely challenge for the league lead in doubles despite have next to zero foot speed. (Billy runs hard, just not quickly).
A slow start cuts into this grade, but every indication is that Billy's grade is on the rise. For now, GRADE - C+
The Royals traded for Mike Jacobs to get a legitimate home run bat into their lineup. With the homers, the team knew Jacobs would also bring plenty of strikeouts and a marginal on-base percentage.
To date, that is exactly what the club has received.
Jacobs currently had five home runs and a slugging percentage of .475. He also as 31 strikeouts in 29 games. That said, the Royals will take Jacobs' current .335 on-base percentage and a surprising ability to work the count (4.27 pitches per plate appearance) if he can hit a few more dingers.
Would you take a line of .340/.395/.544 from a second baseman? That is what the Royals have gotten out of Alberto Callaspo so far in 2009.
Callaspo brings below average speed and marginal defense (but again, this is an offensive column) to the table, but he also has 13 doubles and just 7 strikeouts in over 114 plate appearances.
Miguel Olivo is technically the starting catcher for the Royals, but shares time with John Buck, who we'll discuss in the 'Bench' section.
There is nothing unusual in Olivo's .229 average or his .260 on-base percentage, given his past history. However, Olivo's .357 slugging percentage (just four extra base hits) is a real concern.
His one offensive attribute is power and right now, Miguel is not providing it.
Mike Aviles was a suprise last season as a 27 year old rookie who finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting. Along the way, Aviles hit .325 and posted an OPS of .833 as the team's everyday shortstop from June on.
Mike was even voted the Royals' Player of the Year.
The 2009 season has been a complete disaster to date, however. Aviles is hitting .202/.223/.283 and striking out 21% of the time. After hitting 27 doubles and 10 home runs in 102 games in 2008, Aviles has just five extra base hits in 29 games thus far.
With no viable everyday option at the position, the Royals will give Aviles plenty of time to recapture his rookie form, but right now it is flat out painful to watch.
The Royals' bench is led by Willie Bloomquist, who has played five different positions already this season and is hitting .368/.448/.509.
John Buck has driven in 17 runs in 18 games, which has been good enough for him to see action as the designated hitter in addition to sharing catching duties with Miguel Olivo.
Even fourth outfielder Mitch Maier has gotten into the act with a .394 on-base percentage.
None of the three can probably sustain what they are doing over the course of the entire year, but for now: GRADE - A
If the Royals want to enjoy more run scoring celebrations and stay in contention, they will need more consistency at the plate than they have shown so far in 2009.
David DeJesus is the key to gaining some measure of consistency and simply must return to the form he has exhibited for five years to give this team a boost.
The Royals also need shortstop Mike Aviles to become something other than an automatic out, while at the same time maintaining the level of production they currently are getting out of Mark Teahen and Alberto Callaspo.
Long term, Kansas City can look forward to the midseason return, and hopefully breakout season, from Alex Gordon.
Should the offense continue to struggle and the Royals' pitching manage to keep them at or close to the top of the A.L. Central, look for management to go out and find another bat to jump start this lineup.
Weaknesses aside, to say that the Kansas City Royals are just one bat and a David DeJesus resurgence from contention is quite an improvement over prior years.