When the All-Star break started, I was kind of happy to get a couple days off from Royals baseball. It’s not that I don’t love the Royals. I really do. Trust me, I’m not writing here because it’s making me rich. But the season is long, and it’s nice to have a break. By Tuesday afternoon, I was tired of the break. Luckily, the actual All-Star Game was on and the Royals took a starring role in it (ICYMI). So that got me through Tuesday. Yesterday, I was so excited for baseball to be back that I convinced myself it was actually Thursday and there was a game to play the next day, so I wrote the series preview. I mean, it was nice to get it done, but whoops. Finally, though, it’s back. And the Royals have work to do.
- There have been times throughout this season the Royals have taken the wind out of my sails. You see them go through stretches like their eight-game losing streak or their 3-11 stretch early in the year and it’s easy to just get so frustrated that you put your 2004-2013 guard back up. But after seeing Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez each homer and drive in all of the American League’s runs, I have a renewed energy about me toward the second half of the season. I hope the Royals do too. It’s crunch time now. They have 74 games left to play. They’re seven games out. Is that an easy gap to close? It most definitely is not. But it’s also most definitely possible. This team has been described in many ways, but the one that seems to stick is that they’re cockroaches. You absolutely cannot kill them. Instead of coming back in a game, they’ll have to come back in a division. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to get it done, but I actually feel really good about this team right now. In the final game before the break, Alex Gordon had some good swings. Perez is hot. Maybe the break can get Hosmer going. Morales has been back to being Big Ken. They just need to get that pitching going, but I have faith in Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy and Edinson Volquez to at least be a solid 1-2-3. My energy might be crushed again soon, but for now, I’m back on the #DoADynasty train.
- I think I really underrated how much the Royals would miss Lorenzo Cain. It’s not like they’ve been horrible since he’s been on the disabled list. Great teams go through 5-7 stretches, but the offense has been, well, lacking, and it seems like it’s been more than usual. A big reason is that even though Cain isn’t having the year he did last year, he’s still a big part in helping to lengthen the lineup. And his offense has actually been better than his overall numbers, I think. He bottomed out in the second game of the series in Anaheim, and it reached a point where Ned Yost decided to give him a day off before a scheduled off day. Since then, he played 53 games and hit .321/.353/.462 with six homers and 31 RBIs. That’s the Cain who finished third in the MVP voting last season. That’s the Cain the Royals were relying on. Without him, the lineup has been even shorter than it had been, so the Royals really need him back. I envision a lineup of Whit Merrifield, Gordon, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Perez, RF, Cheslor Cuthbert, Alcides Escobar once Cain comes back, and if you squint a little, that’s one that can actually do a little damage.
- Speaking of that right field spot I left unnamed, I’d really like to see Brett Eibner get the lion’s share of the work there for now. Paulo Orlando has done way more than I ever expected, but the fact is that he’s being propped up by an insanely unsustainable hot start that the whole world knew couldn’t last. Since he was hitting .406 in late May, he’s hit just .273/.303/.338 in 40 games. If there’s no other option, sure, that’s playable at the bottom of the lineup, but there really is a better option. Or at least there’s the possibility of a better option. Eibner is hitting .304/.361/.571. He strikes out a lot. He really struggles with off-speed and breaking pitches. He might never be able to be more than a platoon guy in the big leagues. But what’s the harm in finding out when there isn’t a much better option? Maybe over the next two weeks, the Royals can get an idea from Eibner if they have to go out on the trade market this year or even the free agent market in the off-season to find a right fielder. I feel like the Royals were heading in this direction before the break, and I hope they continue down that road.
- If you’re wondering who the fifth starter for the Royals might be in the near future, you might not have to look past Omaha where Alec Mills took the hill last night for the Storm Chasers. He went 5.2 innings and gave up two runs on three hits. Among those three hits were two home runs, and he walked four, so you know he’s ready to be a part of the big league club. They may turn a different direction, but after Yost mentioned Mills as a possibility for that Sunday start before the break, it made me think that he might be a more likely option than most would have thought. He wasn’t great last night, but he’s 24 years old and has been very good throughout the season in both Double-A and Triple-A. He’s probably not that much more than a back-end starter, but that can be extremely valuable before a player gets expensive. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets the nod on Tuesday.
- We’re going to know an awful lot about the Royals pretty quickly out of the break. They start with six games against the Tigers and Indians, both teams that are currently ahead of the Royals. They then get seven out of the next 10 against the American League West division leading Texas Rangers with three against the Angels in there. If the first six games don’t go well, the next 10 may not matter, but with 13 of 16 games against two first place teams and another winning team ahead of them in the standings, I think we’l have a good idea of how much fun the last two months will be. Of course, I say that, but the last two months could be friendly to the Royals. They have 28 road games left with 13 against very beatable teams. They face the Twins 13 times. There’s a lot to like about the way the season finishes, but going 11-5 in the first 16 games out of the break would be really, really big for the Royals.