On Sunday, May 7, the Royals closed a disastrous 3-6 homestead by losing to the Cleveland Indians by a scoreline of 1-0. Danny Duffy started and pitched a fine game, but the home side could only muster a single hit against a parade of four Cleveland pitchers. The loss, a familiar refrain, dropped the team to 10-20 on the year.
It was, as far as 2017 gone so far, rock bottom for the Royals.
They cleared out of The K and mercifully hit the road. From that point forward, the road has been kind to the Royals. Four games in Tampa meant three wins. And they’ve been rolling ever since.
Since May 7, the Royals have a record of 27-17, a .614 winning percentage. That’s good for the second best mark in the AL over that time. Using those arbitrary end points, the Royals are 3.5 games behind the Houston Astros, who are running away with the league’s best record. They are 1.5 games ahead of Texas. They are the AL’s second best team.
The scrum that has been the AL has taking more time than usual to shake out.
In those 44 games since finding rock bottom, the Royals have scored 210 runs. That’s decent. It’s 4.8 R/G, which is just ahead of the league average of 4.7 R/G. Conversely, they have allowed 209. Whoa. This math isn’t that difficult. They are plus-10 in the win column despite having a run differential of +1.
It’s as if the 2015 Royals have been reincarnated. Not only are they outpacing their Pythag, they are now lying in wait, ready for the opportunity to leap from the dugout and drive the shard of an Alex Gordon broken bat through the heart of their opponent. The wins are frantic. On Wednesday, it was a Salvador Perez grand slam on an epic nine pitch at bat to beat the Red Sox. On Friday, it was a three run rally with two outs in the ninth to shatter the Blue Jays. Two signature victories in two days.
We’re getting the band back together!
The next month or so can be measured in series. Forget individual games, look at series. We’re talking larger sized chunks of games. Take for example this recently completed homestand. Three games against the Red Sox? Two wins. Boom. Three games against Toronto? Two more wins. Four wins out of six? There isn’t a team that wouldn’t love doing that. Blowout like Sunday’s loss will happen. And there will be a game or two in the mix the Royals should have won, but will lose. Keeping a larger picture frame of mind will help absorb those defeats while maintaining the eyes on the bigger prize.
While things like run differential should give you pause, there’s a whole lotta mediocrity running through this league.
The above table is sorted by average run differential. The Royals don’t fare well because their 4.0 runs scored per game remains last in the league. Consider it the hangover from the April drunken bender that no one can remember. Alas, it did happen and there are records and numbers and stuff that prove it. Still, we’re talking about the Royals and their ability to bounce back from rock bottom.
So what does this all mean? That’s why you’re here, right? You seek answers. Clarity.
Sorry to disappoint, but there are no answers. Yet. The script isn’t even half-written at this point. The Royals return to the AL Central this week, with intradivision games at Detroit and then back home for four against Minnesota. Those are the final games at The K before the All-Star break. The Royals close out the first half on another west coast road swing, this time to Seattle and Los Angeles again – this time to face the Dodgers. That’s 13 games between now and the end of the first half of the season.
This does not qualify as a “make or break” stretch. Nor is it a “key” two weeks. The games ahead are no different from the ones that made up the first couple months of the season. They are no different from the ones that will come after the break. Nor will you find wishcasting here along the lines of “If the Royals can only win X number of games before the break…” The only thing that is certain at this point is all games are of equal importance and in those games uncertainty will reign.
When watching this year’s version, think back to the 2014 Royals. That team held close for most of the season. They were on the periphery for a large chunk of it, but they were always in the mix. That’s where the 2017 Royals find themselves. The Indians should be the class of the Central, but they lack the ability to flip the switch on the afterburners and leave the field behind. Meanwhile, the Wild Card race is tighter than the stretch of eastbound I-70 just ahead of the stadium that narrows to two lanes under 435.
Who cares if the Royals are good? Who cares if someone thinks it’s a better idea to sell today to build for tomorrow? The only thing that matters is the Royals hang in the pack. They’ve made up some serious ground after their April malaise, but as the season dwindles, they likely aren’t good enough to pull off the comeback again if there is some separation between teams. They just need to stick around long enough to be a factor in September. If they can do that, who would bet against them, run differential be damned?
Survive today. Advance tomorrow. It’s the Royals mantra.