The task is simple. Just keep winning series. And yet, the task is so difficult. In the last six series the Royals have played, they’ve won them all, which is impressive if you ask me. They’ve won 15 of 18 and given up just 43 runs in that time. That’s a good way to mask a lackluster offense, I suppose. The question, of course, is if it’s too late for the Royals to make it to the promised land. It’s not too late, but they have a lot of work to do. The good news is that if they win every series the rest of the season without sweeping a single one, they’ll end up with 90 wins, which should be enough to make it to the postseason. After falling to 51-58, just having meaningful baseball is a good deal.
- I’m very interested what the Royals do in the outfield both in September and next season. I guess for now, September is the important thing. As Clint noted in Diamonds in the Rough a couple days ago, the organization is pleased with Hunter Dozier’s work in the outfield. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but he will need to be added after the season. Plus, he’s been outstanding offensively all season in Double and Triple-A, so I think there’s a good chance he’s included in September callups. My question is if the Royals would be willing to give him some time in right field in the majors with Lorenzo Cain shifting back to center field in an effort to inject a little more offense into this team. I know that Paulo Orlando has had quite a season, but I’m still not a believer, whether or not that seems weird. He’s been solid defensively in center, but I don’t think he can maintain what he’s done with the bat. We’re already seeing some regression. It would be interesting to see if Dozier gets some time and then how they work the lineup with Orlando out of it. Do they move Alcides Escobar back to the leadoff spot (more on that shortly) or do they try again with Alex Gordon? Personally, I’d go Gordon, Cuthbert, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Perez, Dozier, Escobar, Mondesi in this scenario, but I’m not sure the Royals agree.
- It was said yesterday that had the Royals continued to be out of contention, Matt Strahm would have found his way to a couple September starts, which makes a lot of sense. I do see a future for him as a starter, but I’m actually thinking that his best role on the 2017 team might be out of the bullpen for the big league team and putting the finishing touches on his development with the big league staff. He could work in a multiple inning role, maybe even as a fireman, and give the Royals an incredibly deep bullpen like they seemed to have earlier this season before injuries hit. There are questions if Strahm can remain a starter long term because his changeup isn’t quite there yet, but I’ve seen enough glimpses of a plus pitch that I believe he can get it there in time. The question is if the Royals are better off for 2017 with Strahm as a starter or him in the bullpen and then finding a fifth starter elsewhere. I think they’re better short-term and long-term with him in the bullpen to start because it allows him to develop and it eliminate the Royals dealing with growing pains in a year they’re supposed to contend.
- So a funny thing is happening down at the bottom of the order, and it’s that Escobar is doing himself some hitting. Since getting pushed out of the leadoff spot, he’s hit seventh or eighth in the last 16 games. In those games, he’s hit .339/.391/.492, and inexplicably at a glance has even worked some walks. I say “at a glance” there because he’s been hitting in front of Raul Mondesi a lot, and I imagine that as poor a hitter as Escobar is, they’d rather face Mondesi than him. Still, he’s hit very well in the bottom of the order. I think a lot of it is that he’s being attacked by pitchers differently, but I also think there’s a comfort level for him not at the top of the order. The Royals pointed for a long time to the fact that they won with him at the top of the order, but they did so in spite of Escobar rather than because of it. We don’t have to get into all of that. The other thing about Escobar that’s been encouraging is that he looks to be moving better than he has in a long time, too. I’m not sure if he’s just invigorated by being lower in the lineup or what, but it’s been nice to see him perform better lately. It makes me feel better about the inevitability of his $6.5 million option getting picked up.
- Shall we update the top three in the rotation and what they’ve done in the month of August? I don’t know why I’m asking you. I’m the one in charge here. These three are especially relevant to the interests of Royals fans because they’ll be the three on the hill in Boston this weekend as the Royals play a huge series against the Red Sox. Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura have been something very special this month. Okay, Duffy has been the entire season really, but he’s found some help recently. The three have combined to make 14 starts. The Royals are 13-1 in those starts. They’ve gone 96 innings, given up 66 hits, struck out 87 and walked 26. They’ve given up 14 runs (all earned) for a 1.31 cumulative ERA. That’s astonishingly good. This weekend will be a big test for them in a hitter-friendly park.
- Is the American League Central in play for the Royals? Sure. I don’t see why not. It’s not exactly the easiest path, but it’s still possible. They’re 6.5 games out now with 35 to play. The math isn’t great, but it’s certainly possible with them having six more games against the Indians the rest of the year. I said last week that they need to cut the deficit to five by September 9 for it to be a real possibility. That’s making up a game and a half in 12 games. That’s no easy task. This weekend is a great opportunity to win games as the Indians are facing the Rangers in Texas. Of course, the Royals have the Red Sox in Boston, so winning for them won’t be easy at all. But yes, the Central is still in play. For now, though, we should all just focus on that Wild Card race until the division has a slightly easier path.