If the Royals want people to take their 2017 season seriously, they’re just about out of time to really get going. Winning six of seven last week was great and it certainly helps that the American League Central has been mediocre at best, but they need to do some winning and they need to do it fast. Dayton Moore said recently that he doesn’t need to be focused on selling yet, and I tend to agree with that, but they need to be back at .500 within a month in order for me to believe they even have a shot to be good enough to not sell at the deadline. They start a huge 10-game road trip today. I fear a bad result, but if they can pull out 7-3 somehow, I’ll probably feel pretty decent about this team.
- I thought during spring training when he was struggling that Jorge Soler might be this year’s whipping boy. His injury and the team’s poor performance prior to his return sort of shielded him from that, but now that he’s back, I think I might have been right. Some of it is very justified. He came into action on Thursday hitting just .176. His defense is right field is, well, interesting. And, you know, the guy he was traded for has been predictably magnificent for the Cubs and was a fan favorite in Kansas City. Here’s what I like about Soler, though. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches. I talked about this when I advocated for him leading off after they acquired him. He actually will take a walk. Now, that doesn’t mean he necessarily knows what to swing at in the zone, but he recognizes what is not a strike. And what that leads to is hard contact. That home run he hit on Sunday was just ridiculous. I think Soler is about to get hot, and that comes from seeing some hard contact and the ability to lay off bad pitches. And when he does get hot, he’s going to be really fun to watch.
- Jason Vargas finally had a bad start this week, which means we can probably stop wondering if he’ll win the Cy Young unanimously. His struggles against the Yankees brought up some talk about if and when the Royals should deal him. I see a lot out there talking about how the Royals should be selling high on him, but I think that’s sort of silly reasoning. It’s not like teams don’t know who and what Jason Vargas is at this point in his career. I don’t think any team saw the first few starts of the season and thought, “Man, I think Jason Vargas really is the best pitcher in baseball now, so I better jump on getting him before teams join us in a bidding war.” No, they know what they’re getting with Vargas. In my mind, waiting to deal Vargas can only hurt the Royals if he completely implodes over the next two months. His last start wasn’t ideal, but I think we can all agree that an implosion seems unlikely. Given that thought, my belief is that he can only improve his trade value by showing that some of the changes we’ve seen are for real and he is actually better than the old Vargas. What I’m trying to say is it’s hard to sell high on a guy the league has seen since 2005. The market for Vargas today is probably the same as it was on Tuesday before he started.
- Given how poorly he hit in his short time with the Royals this season, it’s understandable if you haven’t been paying too close attention to what Raul Mondesi has done since being demoted to Omaha. As it turns out, he’s been absolutely raking, hitting .324/.383/.554 with six doubles, a triple and three home runs. His strikeout rate is still a bit high at 22.9 percent, but a lot of that is from his first two games down there after the demotion when he struck out six times in 10 plate appearances. And I can kind of understand that. It’s tough to get demoted. There might be some level of disappointment that could lead to a couple bad games to start. Regardless, this is a great development and one that I think the Royals are willing to let play out without pushing him back to the big leagues too soon. The reason I believe that is the fact that he’s playing mostly shortstop down there. The Royals like to get Ramon Torres time at shortstop as well, so Mondesi has to shift over to second in those games, but he’s been at short in 14 of 19 games. Now the Royals need to leave Mondesi in Omaha and let him have an extended run of success for the first time in his professional career. He won’t even be 22 for another two months. The key now is to get him ready to be a solid regular in 2018 and I think he’s on the way to that.
- Danny Duffy last night was simply fantastic. With all the talk that he had struggled to get swings and misses with two strikes, he went out and got nine swinging strikes with two outs yesterday. It was the best performance of the season for Duffy in going seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. One thing that did stand out is that it looks like if there is an issue with him, it’s that his command falters with runners on base. This season he’s issued 11 walks in 104 plate appearances with runners on and just eight walks in 132 plate appearances with the bases empty. The strikeouts are very different as well with just 11 coming with runners on and 34 with the bases empty. I’m wondering if this goes back to the balk call in Chicago changing the way he pitches with runners on, but whatever the reason, this is a trend that I believe is worth monitoring over the rest of the season. Theoretically it shouldn’t be a big deal since he pitches from the stretch all the time, but it has been this season.