So the Royals are good again in spite of whatever that ninth inning was yesterday. That happened awfully quick. It was just under three weeks ago that I was sitting at a Sunday afternoon game and watching the Royals struggle with the lowly Braves. I wondered on Twitter that day if maybe the 12-6 stretch to start the year where we didn’t think they were playing well was actually this team playing well. They looked shockingly mediocre on the whole and bad for that stretch of games. But then Kendrys Morales won the game in the 13th inning with a dead center home run, and they’ve taken off from there. Now they’re back in their familiar perch of first place, hopefully never to relinquish it again. And I do mean never. Not just for 2016. I’m greedy. Let’s get to the notes.
- In a recent post by Ken Rosenthal, he notes that the Royals are doing what some of the more successful teams of our generation have done and they’re just plugging holes from within and watching these guys find success. It’s amazing what Whit Merrifield, Paulo Orlando, Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner have been able to do, making immediate impacts at the big league level. Orlando’s impact was last year, but he rode a ridiculous May into an everyday job for the time being and has helped to lengthen the lineup a little bit more. And what Rosenthal says is true. The reason teams like the Cardinals and Braves have been able to bring up guys who you wouldn’t expect to be great is because with no room at the big league level, they have time to actually develop. No, these players aren’t stars. If they were, they’d have been up four years ago. Instead they’re competent. This is how you build a sustainable, winning formula. You have the key cogs in place that allows players like Merrifield to come up and be complementary parts rather than main pieces. If these guys can just keep playing well for a few weeks, the lineup will get Alex Gordon back and it looks like they’ll get Salvador Perez back this weekend. This team has staying power.
- Of course, in order to stay, I do believe they have to go get a starting pitcher. Look, every pitcher in the rotation has given us a reason to believe they can be part of the solution come October, but at least three of them have given us plenty of reasons to believe they can’t as well. We know Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy are going to be there as long as they’re healthy, but Yordano Ventura is so inconsistent with basically every facet of his game that he’s hard to count on right now. Danny Duffy has been so impressive in his return to the rotation with better control, better command, more strikeouts and all that, but he also has struggled when the lineup turns over a third time. That might change as he gets more starts, but it might not. And then there’s Chris Young, now back in the rotation, but he was giving up more than a home run every three innings when he was starting before. Maybe it was the injury, but we don’t know yet. There’s plenty of names out there the Royals could be after, but keep an eye on Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, Andrew Cashner and Dan Straily. All have their warts, but all could be affordable both financially and in terms of prospects needed to acquire.
- I talked about this on Twitter yesterday, but it’s worth bringing up again. Everybody looks at the Royals starting rotation and assumes the bullpen is going to burn out by the end of the season. It’s a fair assumption. The rotation isn’t even on pace to throw 900 innings, which we’ve talked about many times. But there’s a funny thing about that. I don’t think they will wear out. At least not from overuse this season. Taking a look at the leaderboard heading into play yesterday, there were only three Royals pitchers in the top 100 in innings pitched in all of baseball. Kelvin Herrera was 20th, Joakim Soria was 27th and Luke Hochevar was 86th. In terms of games pitched, Herrera did head into play yesterday ranking fourth, but other than him, Soria was 29th, Hochevar was 64th and Wade Davis checked in at 98th. There are a lot of things that I question when it comes to Ned Yost’s strategy, but he has figured out the best way to keep a dominant bullpen relatively rested and not overworked. It’s paid off for him the last two Octobers, so let’s hope that continues to work this season.
- I can’t in good conscience write anything about the Royals and not sing the praises of Drew Butera and what he’s done for the Royals this season and especially since Perez went down on Sunday. After his home run last night, Butera is hitting .306/.375/.528. Prior to this season, Butera was a career .185/.241/.266 hitters, so this performance, even in just 40 plate appearances, could not be expected by anyone. Since coming into the game on Sunday afternoon, all Butera has done is hit .412/.500/.706 in six games. No, I don’t expect that to continue and I wouldn’t run out and start shopping Perez because the Royals have a replacement ready, but he’s been so good for the Royals; it just had to be mentioned and discussed. Deputy Drew has done good.
- When looking at the schedule a few weeks ago, the start of the Boston series through the end of June looked like it could make or break the Royals season. Those 42 scheduled games featured 29 games against teams that are above .500 now and 24 games against American League Central opponents. They were 18-19 heading into that stretch, and my thought was that if they could be 41-38 at the end of it, I’d feel good about this team. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to reach that 41-38 record. You know, because of the rainout. In the first 16 games of the stretch, they’re 12-4. My original goal for the team is no longer good enough, and that’s a very good thing. With 25 games left in this stretch, I’d really like to see the Royals finish it 15-10. Remember that 13 of the games are on the road against very good teams, so it won’t be an easy task, but if they can do that, they’d be 45-33 and would likely have a decent lead in the AL Central. Then, as I mentioned above, Gordon should be about back and the Royals will have as much of their team together as they’re going to the rest of this season. If they don’t go 15-10, there’s obviously plenty of time to open up some distance and bank some wins, but man it would help to ride this hot streak against good teams.