First half didn't go as expected for Royals

First half didn't go as expected for Royals

First half didn't go as expected for Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Dreams unfulfilled.

Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

That's the short, blunt and, really, incomplete synopsis of the Royals' first half of the 2012 season. Perhaps Kansas City fans and the media expected too much, too soon of this promising band of young and exceptional players.

There are a lot of things that need to be done in the Royals' second half, an obvious conclusion when they slogged into the All-Star break with a 37-47 record.

"But before anything, we have to get back to .500," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Don't get me wrong, that's not our ultimate goal by any means. But we have to get there first before we can have a winning record and talk about [the playoffs]."

Maybe general manager Dayton Moore sensed that public preseason expectations were a bit overstretched.

Rather quietly over the winter and into Spring Training, Moore cautioned against excessive optimism. Yes, there was some fine talent, but much of it was largely inexperienced. And that immensely important cog called the starting rotation didn't exactly merit being called the Fabulous Five or the KC Kings of the Hill.

First-half awards
MVP: BILLY BUTLER
Through all the ups and downs, Butler was a consistent and very productive force.
Cy Young: JONATHAN BROXTON
With starters often struggling, the pitching strength was the bullpen, and Broxton was the guiding force.
Rookie: KELVIN HERRERA
A hard-throwing right-hander, he strikes out many, walks few and looks like a closer of the future.
Top reliever: JONATHAN BROXTON
Stepping in for the injured Joakim Soria, he rattled nerves with close shaves but piled up 21 saves.

The starting lineup appeared quite good, though, with Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur back as the outfield corners, youngsters Eric Hosmer at first, Alcides Escobar at short and Mike Moustakas at third, and the terrific Salvador Perez catching. Billy Butler was solid as an oak at designated hitter. OK, second base was a little iffy, and Lorenzo Cain was unproven in center. But the bullpen was infused with strong young arms and reliable closer Joakim Soria.

Somebody dial a doctor. Soria has to have Tommy John surgery. So does Danny Duffy. So does Blake Wood. So does Felipe Paulino. Anybody got a spare pitcher? Perez has to have knee surgery. So does Manny Pina. Anybody got a spare catcher? Cain has leg miseries. Whatever happened to that center fielder, Melky Somebody? If it didn't hurt so much, you'd almost have to laugh.

Well, the Royals had such a painless 2011, you had to figure the odds would catch up to them.

Then, to compound the medical misery, the boys in blue got into a blue funk with a 12-game losing streak early in the season. Once they put that behind them, the Royals played at a pretty decent clip, 34-33, to the All-Star break.

Players to watch in second half
SALVADOR PEREZ
The kid catcher missed most of the first half, but now's his chance to prove he can live up to the hype.
LUKE HOCHEVAR
This team badly needs a big dog to lead and energize the rotation, and Hoch has the tools to do it.
WIL MYERS
It's not if, it's when this slugging prodigy will arrive from Omaha to take over an outfield spot.

"It's a work in progress, but we're very encouraged with where we are -- but certainly not satisfied," Moore said.

Dreams undiminished.

That's the short, blunt and very optimistic synopsis of the Royals' second half of the 2012 season. There are a lot of reasons that fans, as well as that pesky media, should have positive thoughts for the rest of the season.

For one thing, even with Duffy and Paulino gone, the rotation is showing signs of stabilization, with Luke Hochevar revving up, Luis Mendoza looking more like his Triple-A days and Bruce Chen being consistent as usual. Everett Teaford is fitting in well, too. Now, if only Jonathan Sanchez can find his 2010 magic.

There's no reason to believe that Jonathan Broxton, having proved his right elbow is sound, will spin off into oblivion after becoming a solid stand-in for the idled Soria. The younger bullpenners -- notably Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera -- were minding the store well, and lefty specialist Jose Mijares was quite good. The big concern will be not adding to a considerable workload caused by the starters' early-game departures.

Turning to hitting, there needs to be improvement in that basic baseball commodity, runs, a department in which the Royals rank 12th among 14 American League teams. The offense gets its share of hits (Kansas City ranks fifth in batting average), but not enough long ones (it was last in the AL in homers with 68).

"I want to see our hitters drive the ball more," Yost said.

Amen to that, says Moore.

"We're going to score more runs. I want to see our offense reach our potential. I feel like we haven't done that at all," Moore said. "You want to get more length out of your rotation. We'll see if we're talented enough to do that, and we hope to incorporate one of our young pitchers [from the Minors] into the rotation as we move forward in the second half."

Moving from 10 games below .500 toward the break-even point would be a good start.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.