May 1, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Tony Paul

Tony Paul's MLB Insider: Royals, the Tigers' weekend foes, still can't find any offense

Royals star Mike Moustakas struggled in 2012 and is off to a slow start this season. (Scott Halleran / Getty Images)

We knew the Royals could pitch.

The question, as they entered what finally was supposed to be their season to break out in the American League Central, squarely was: Can they hit?

So far, the answer is: not nearly enough.

Just consider this stunning fact, entering Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays: When the Royals have scored four runs or more, they’ve won. And when they’ve scored three runs or fewer, they lose.

Every. Single. Time. Dating to the beginning of the season, when the Tigers swept a two-game series.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore made a couple key moves to avoid another offensive debacle. He picked up speedy leadoff hitter Nori Aoki in a trade with the Brewers and signed second baseman Omar Infante to a handsome contract. Both have mostly lived up to their billing; Infante is even leading the team in runs batted in, for crying out loud.

Of course, that’s more an indictment with what’s wrong with the Royals.

Alex Gordon has one home run. Billy Butler has no home runs, and has a slugging percentage of .255.

But the biggest issue is obvious: Mike Moustakas. The No. 2 overall pick in 2007, Moustakas burst onto the scene in 2012, with 20 home runs and 73 RBIs in 2012. He fell off significantly in 2013, with 12 homers and 42 RBIs.

And a month into the 2014 season, he’s as lost as ever. He has just 13 hits — granted, four are homers — in 96 plate appearances, for a batting average of .149. His on-base percentage is .219. And there is legitimate concern in Kansas City, even if manager Ned Yost is maintaining a positive outlook.

“Moose is third on our team in RBIs (12) and first in home runs,” Yost told the Kansas City Star this week. “He’s a great defender at third base.”

But for a team that desperately needs offense — the pitching has been quite tremendous, with a rotation bolstered by the additions of young (Yordano Ventura) and old (Jason Vargas), and the same lockdown bullpen — that might be enough.

It’s why there continue to be rumblings that backup third baseman Danny Valencia might start getting more reps, should Moustakas, 25, not shake his latest funk. Not that Valencia is the answer.

The Royals need Moustakas to hit, and soon, if they’re to stay on the Tigers’ tail in the AL Central. That’s a tall order, however, considering the Tigers, in K.C. this weekend, have been the toughest test for Moustakas in the division.

Bullpen balm

Is help on the way for the Tigers bullpen?

From Toledo and Erie? Yes, eventually. From a trade? Yes, probably sometime before July 31.

But there’s one free agent out there whose name keeps popping up: Joel Hanrahan.

A two-time All-Star closer with the Pirates, Hanrahan, 32, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery — and according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Tigers are very interested. They’ll have some competition, though. More than 20 teams saw Hanrahan throw recently, the Tigers among them. Heyman lists other contenders such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers as in the mix, as well.

During his throwing session, Heyman said, Hanrahan was hitting 92 and 93 mph on the gun, and appeared close to being able to help an interested team. He had Tommy John surgery last spring.

In Detroit, he’d seem to be a perfect fit, filling the setup role Bruce Rondon was supposed to fill — before he, too, was lost to Tommy John surgery. Free-agent pickup Joba Chamberlain has stepped into that role rather nicely, but Hanrahan still could provide much needed depth for a bullpen that still has serious questions about the likes of Phil Coke, Evan Reed, Al Alburquerque and Justin Miller.

A decision from Hanrahan could be coming soon, though not soon enough for Tigers fans’ liking.

Stay tuned. This should be interesting.

Another look at another look

A couple observations a month into the new era of instant replay:

1) Umpires, amazingly, get most of the calls correct — even the bang-bang ones. We already knew this.

2) But when umpires do miss a call, it sure seems like they miss the easy ones. Didn’t expect that.

3) If every team can look at its own in-clubhouse replay before determining whether to challenge a call, then why the heck are so many calls on the field being upheld? According to research by baseballsavant.com, more than half the challenges have not been overturned.

All in all, the process is fine with me. Some fine-tuning will be necessary — they’ve already started, with the transfer rule — but getting the calls right is critical, and they’ve done it, in a relatively timely manner.

Perhaps the biggest plus to this system, though: Because of expanded replay, fans now get to see replays on the scoreboards at every stadium. This was long overdue. MLB previously disallowed scoreboard replays, so as not to provoke fan unrest toward umpires.

Three up …

1. The Mets are 15-11!?! They can thank a rotation that’s amazingly getting by without Matt Harvey.

2. Don’t ignore the Angels, who’re heating up with the A’s and Rangers dealing with injury after injury.

3. Good April for healthy Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who had 27 hits to go with 30 — 30! — walks.

… Three down

1. The Indians are reeling, with six losses in a row, thanks to a rotation that’s not living up to its billing.

2. Rangers ace Yu Darvish is 1-7 against the A’s — compared to 29-12 against the rest of baseball.

3. Miguel Cabrera is hitting, but not doing much damage. One of his last 10 hits was for extra bases.

Diamond digits

51 — Strikeouts by Max Scherzer, the most by a Tiger at the end of April since Mickey Lolich had 52 in 1970, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

10,000 — All-time wins for the Dodgers, the fourth MLB team to reach that plateau (Giants, Cubs, Braves). In case you’re wondering, the Tigers have 8,935 wins.

6/4/2000 — The last time the Tigers took the lead on an RBI bunt in the ninth inning or later, with Shane Halter doing the honors at Wrigley Field. Bryan Holaday pulled the stunt Tuesday, against the White Sox.

He said it

“There’s just not that much baseball left. Making up 4.5 games is definitely going to be tough.”

— Mike Aviles, Indians infielder, sarcastically talking to MLB.com about the team's early season struggles.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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