If the playoffs were today, the Royals would square off against the Boston Red Sox in the wild card game. Would Danny Duffy be your choice for starting pitcher? After coming one out short of a complete game Saturday night, which was preceded by an 8 inning performance against St. Louis in Duffy’s last start, I would lean heavily towards answering in the affirmative.
In each of those contests, Danny struck out 8 and walked no one. While the two starts before St. Louis were rough (but at least not implosions like the rest of the rotation), Duffy’s three starts to begin the month of June spanned 6 innings each and included just 3 walks while featuring 25 strikeouts. In fact, since rejoining the starting rotation, Duffy has not allowed a walk in six of his ten starts.
So, yeah, I sit here tonight watching various fireworks spring up about the neighborhood (and no, I don’t feel the need to prove my sophistication and intellect by disparaging their use) and Danny Duffy, right now, is my starter for a potential wild card game. Have the Royals seen enough to totally trust Duffy? No, but they have certainly seen plenty to be extremely hopeful.
That I spoke of the wild card game does not imply that the American League Central has already been awarded to the Cleveland Indians. That said six games of a team with the Indians’ rotation, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor is decently steep hill to climb. You might well point out that the likes of Toronto, Texas and the Mets were all similar games back last summer, only to not only make the playoffs, but do so by winning their divisions. I will remind you that those teams also made mid-season acquisitions of Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Cole Hamels and Yeonis Cespedes. I don’t foresee the Royals acquiring a player of that talent level this summer.
The Indians, having finally lost a game on Saturday, are not going to win 14 of every 15 the rest of the way and, if it took them half a season to get up by six games, they can easily spend the second half of the season giving it all back. Interestingly, the Indians come to Kansas City for the very last three games of the season.
When it comes to closing the gap and making that final homestand meaningful, Kendrys Morales getting hot is a heckuva first step. It unfortunately coincided with Lorenzo Cain getting injured, which is pretty much how the 2016 season has gone for Kansas City. Sure, Alex Gordon is back as well, but with three strikeouts on Saturday, is still looking like someone other than Alex Gordon.
We all know (although some on Twitter will be sure to remind us) that Kendrys Morales will not continue to rake at a .600 pace with a home run or two every evening, but we can make some assumption that the big man will settle into the hitter he was for the Royals last season. Is adding a productive Alex Gordon to the mix (and a healthy Lorenzo Cain while we’re at it), the key to closing in on the Indians? Let’s add Eric Hosmer heating back up to the mix as well, shall we?
All of that is not enough, in my opinion. The Royals’ still are a team that has a rotation of questions of hope – even with Danny Duffy’s outstanding work as of late. Could they really be players in the Matt Moore trade market? Do they have the juice in the system to even make a phone call?
I wonder if the recent performances of ‘so-so’ prospects like Whit Merrifield, Brett Eibner and Cheslor Cuthbert has had any effect on other organizations’ perception of the talent level of the Kansas City farm system? If so, has it changed it enough for Dayton Moore to pursue some of the more coveted potential trade targets without having to dangle Raul Mondesi?
Unlike many, I don’t agonize over moving prospects, but Mondesi is the one that even I would hesitate to offer. With the Royals six over and currently holding one post-season slot (as silly as that sounds on July 2nd), I care much less about potential for 2018 and more about contention in 2016. I am not haunted by the Reds having all three players involved in the Cueto trade in their starting rotation, nor do I agonize over Sean Manaea pitching for Oakland while Ben Zobrist is hitting for the Cubs. Even with that mindset, trading Mondesi seems like a non-starter to me.
Can the Royals offer a package that nets them a starting pitcher to sit atop the rotation with Duffy (yes, I said it) and push the idea of Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Dillon Gee being in the rotation onto the shelf? Perhaps even focusing on a pitcher more suited to pitch away from Kansas City than in the friendly confines of Kaufmann. Is that likely the direction Dayton Moore should be looking to improve his team?
The alternative, in my mind and something that has at least been rumored, is to acquire even more quality relief pitching to make the bullpen even deeper and better in anticipation of soldiering on with the current rotation and simply asking even less from the starters than the Royals do already. That is some outside the box stuff there, but not a tremendous deviation from what the Royals built the past three seasons.
Having won three of the last four on the road, maybe those woes are being erased. With Kendrys Morales hitting, maybe the offense is going to be okay after all. Danny Duffy may be emerging as the anchor the starting rotation needs. All good signs, but not enough to alleviate thoughts that this Kansas City Royals squad needs a mid-season addition.
I’ll sit here on the deck, in the dark with one more cold one and ponder that question. One fact seems obvious: the 2016 Royals are closer to another World Series than whatever this organization is likely to offer in 2018. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.