Photo credit: Adam Hunger, USA Today Sports

A Fans’ Guide To Playing Out The String

And now we enter the toughest part of the season.

For Royals fans, the trade deadline was a dud. Heck, the whole month of July was a dud. Now that we’re into August, there are only two months left in the season. No one* could have imagined the Royals’ season turning out this way, but here we are. There almost certainly will not be a magical playoff run this year. No tense September games, no nerve-wracking October ones. I’m not even sure we can indulge in the traditional standby for fans of losing teams: demanding that heads roll. I guess you can call for that, but it ain’t happening, not coming off a World Series title and dealing with rotten luck.

*Sorry, projection systems, I don’t give you credit for predicting a sub-.500 record unless you correctly predicted all the injuries and the specific underperforming players who made it all possible. Better luck next year.

Now Royals fans have more practice than a lot of fanbases at playing out the string, so to speak. But if you’re one of those fans who climbed aboard the bandwagon in mid-August 2013, or if you’ve just forgotten how to do it, here’s a few things you might watch for in the last two months. And I would advise you to pay at least some attention; the rest of the season will go by more quickly than you think, and soon enough it will be snowing and the wind chill will be hovering at zero and you’ll miss baseball so freaking much.

Anyway, the first thing to watch is Danny Duffy. I’m old enough to remember when Royals fans considered him a “headcase.” I think that was in May sometime. Even before Monday night’s dominant performance, Duffy had quickly established himself as the team’s best starter. If he can maintain this level next year, the rotation has its leader. In fact, I couldn’t blame you if you only tuned in every fifth day just to watch Duffy. But then you might miss…

Yordano Ventura. Just like Duffy, he has shown great potential but has had plenty of ups and downs. It might seem like he’s been around a long time, but he’s only 25. Duffy is 27. Could Ventura figure it out over these last two months and be the second superior starter this rotation desperately needs? A lot of us thought this might be the year for it and so far we’ve been wrong. Ventura had a string of nice starts last August but was less effective in September. Look to see if he brings more consistency over these last nine weeks.

This last part of the season will also give us a chance to take a long look at Raul Mondesi. The shortstop of the future has shown off a good portion of his toolbox already—speed, good glove, good arm. If you think about it, it’s been a little while since we had a very skilled rookie to get excited about. As you might recall, watching one figure out the game at this level can be frustrating, but a lot of fun.

Speaking of talented rookies, how about Cheslor Cuthbert? He’s done a fine impression of Mike Moustakas since taking over at third base. Can he keep it up for two more months? If he can, the Royals may have an answer to the DH question they’ll probably face next year. My solution? Let Cuthbert get some work at first base. If he can handle it, the Royals can rotate guys through the DH spot. Cuthbert could fill in for a day for Moustakas or Eric Hosmer, while Lorenzo Cain and even Salvador Perez could take a turn at DH too. That would allow Cuthbert to get regular at-bats (he could be in the DH rotation too) and stay sharp while keeping other players a little more rested. Or, Cuthbert’s emergence could make Moustakas a trade chip for a starting pitcher. That might be a difficult deal to pull off, and I’d hate to see Moustakas go, but having two third basemen beats the days when that third base tree looked barren.

And then speaking of third basemen, it is definitely time to get a look at Hunter Dozier in the majors. The 24-year-old has hit 21 home runs between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha this year, and has a tidy .307/.369/.523 line in 287 at-bats for Omaha entering Monday night’s game. Might as well get him some experience and get him ready for 2017.

Meanwhile, keep wearing your championship gear. Seasons like 2015 don’t come around too often. And until late October, the Royals can still claim that title. Enjoy it while you can, I say. Watch that DVD again. Go out to the ballpark once in a while. I’m sure the Royals feel confident in their ability to contend next year, and I do too. But there are plenty of reasons to pay attention in the meantime.

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