Alternate Reality: We’ve arrived at the 40-game mark, the point in the season when Dayton Moore likes to take stock of his team and see if there are any changes that need to be made. To date, things are going about as he (and I) expected. The Royals are 22-18 and tied for first place in the American League Central. They’re on pace for 89 wins, so even if the Indians finally get hot and win 95 games, they’re still in great position for one of the Wild Card spots.
Take a look at the AL Central standings to date:
Yes, that’s right. All is well in Kansas City. The offense has been about as expected, though they’ve gotten there in a slightly different way than expected. They’re hitting .258/.312/.427 as a team with 50 homers in 40 games. That’s a pace of 202 homers in a season to obliterate the previous team record of 168. They’re striking out more than they used to, but we knew that would come with added power. Sure they’ve had some offensive outbursts to help pad the run totals, but they’ve also scored four or more runs in 23 of their 40 games and three or more in 29 of 40, so they’re putting enough runs on the board to compete on most nights.
The pitching hasn’t been great with a 4.41 team ERA and they’re allowing as many home runs as they’re hitting. Of course, a big issue is that two key cogs in the rotation, Danny Duffy and Nate Karns, have missed a lot of the season with injury, leading to needing a couple rookie fill-ins who have done so with mixed results. But think about that. This team is 22-18 and leading the division without their ace and the guy who is probably their third best starter.
Take a look at what the lineup has done so far.
Sure it craters at the bottom, but aside from Alcides Escobar, every position player has at least a .317 OBP or a .433 slugging percentage. That’s actually a pretty darn deep lineup. Hosmer is having a monster season and Moustakas is on pace to demolish the Balboni Monster, but nobody is necessarily great. It’s just deep.
The bench hasn’t been quite as good with Ramon Torres coming up and only playing a couple games and Cheslor Cuthbert struggling a bit with limited playing time, but Drew Butera continues to be the consummate backup catcher, so things are okay there.
All is right in Royals land.
But you all know that isn’t reality. That’s just what the Royals have done since May 1, a date that’s significant for two reasons. One, it allowed them to turn the calendar from a horrible April that saw them go 7-16. And two, it’s the date they stopped their nine game losing stretch that caused them to reach 7-16. Instead of being tied with the Twins for first, the Royals are a full five games behind them. Instead of being four games over .500, they’re five games under.
This isn’t new information. But it really is too bad. Since the Royals found the ability to compete in them, one bad month has doomed them twice. In 2013, they finished 86-76 but went 8-20 in May. Simply going .500 that month, a feat they accomplished in every other month, would have given them a playoff spot.
And in 2016, the Royals finished 81-81, but went 7-19 in July. Simply going .500 in July would have given them 87 wins and while they would have fallen short of the second Wild Card, you never know how different September would have been when they faded had they actually had something to play for.
In 2014, they had another bad May, going 12-17, but they overcame it with two fantastic months going 17-10 in June and 19-10 in August. You know what happened that year.
In spite of the Royals horrific April this season, they are still just five games back of first place in the division and just four games back of the second Wild Card spot as we’re nearing the halfway point of the season. For me, while it’s not early, it’s also still too early to worry about having teams to climb over. There’s so much baseball to play that if you just win games, good things will happen. So the Royals have a chance to dig themselves out of this hole.
Craig Brown wrote earlier today that it’s not quite time to sell. He made the great point that there’s no harm in seeing what happens because the Royals likely won’t lose any value on their trade chips, and he’s right. Teams aren’t ready to buy and the Royals shouldn’t be ready to sell.
For the past 40 games, this team has been pretty much exactly what I thought they’d be. They’re a solid but flawed team. And that team had such a brutally terrible first month of the season that they need to figure out a way to have a ridiculous month to make up for it. I’m not so sure they have it in them. There’s every chance in the world that 22-18 is this team’s version of a hot stretch of baseball, and if that’s the case, we’ll know soon. If this is a “hot stretch,” they won’t be able to maintain it much longer and they’ll drop far enough out of the face that they’ll sell.
But until then, maybe they do have a run in them. Maybe this 22-18 since May 1st and the 7-4 in June is the beginning of another fun summer in Kansas City. At least the games are fun to watch again. It doesn’t get any easier for them after this road trip, but with 24 games left until the break, let’s see if the alternate reality can become the reality.