I first wrote about the Royalcoaster in 2013, but it’s come up more than a few times since then. The Royals have been .500 or better in each of the last four seasons, and in three of the four, they were under .500 at some point after the All-Star break. They went into the 2013 break at 43-49. They were 48-50 in 2014. Last year, they were 51-58 on August 5th. This team is no stranger to digging a hole and climbing their way out of it. After falling to 45-47 after a loss to the Tigers last week, they’ve done it again. Buckle up. The Royalcoaster is running again.
- Sometimes a team will have a player come to the big leagues and be a complete surprise. We seem to see it with the Cardinals an awful lot. I feel like most people’s immediate reaction is “why can’t we have something like that?” I assume the “we” describes the Royals and not their personal life because that’d be weird. The answer is that the Royals do, and his name is Whit Merrifield. After a perfectly acceptable solid debut season last year, Merrifield has continued to improve. He’s hitting .294/.336/.489 and playing a solid second base for the Royals while pacing the offense at the top of the order. A big concern last year was that he was putting up his numbers because of an inflated BABIP of .361. This year, it’s .311. And if you say you saw it coming, you’re a liar. The 90th percentile PECOTA projection for Merrifield was .296/.344/.428. He’s not hitting the ball that hard, but he’s avoiding soft contact, and he’s spraying the ball all over the field. I don’t know how long he can keep this up, but there’s a big benefit to a guy not making it until he’s Merrifield’s age and it’s that the Royals have the chance to have the kind of production he’s providing at roughly the league minimum during his prime seasons. So when you wonder why the Royals never have anyone who just jumps out and surprises, the answer is that they do.
- I think the Royals still need to target a bat. A lot has been discussed about Brandon Moss and his hot stretch in July when he’s hit .293/.379/.534, and it’s been great to watch. He’s been exactly what the Royals were hoping they’d be getting when they signed him a few months ago. The problem is that he’s been that for all of 66 plate appearances. A great sign is that he’s worked six walks in his last six games, so he’s clearly seeing the ball well, but I think the Royals really need some insurance for if he goes into the tank again. This offense isn’t built on a monster middle of the order, so they need depth. Yes, the Eric Hosmer/Salvador Perez/Mike Moustakas trio has been fantastic this year with a combined .295/.335/.530 average and 65 homers and 182 RBIs. That’s been great, but when the offense is clicking, it’s because they’re getting production from top to bottom, and I think there’s still too much risk that the bottom part of that equation goes in the tank and kills rallies. It’s not like Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar are good bets to become offensive forces. Some options are the same as when I wrote about trade options a couple weeks ago, but Seth Smith, Steve Pearce, Melky Cabrera, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Howie Kendrick and Tommy Pham all make varying degrees of sense to help out this offense down the stretch.
- After the trade with the Padres to acquire Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer, I think it was a fair assumption to think the Royals were done with big moves. They had set out to get a starter and a couple relievers and did so with one move. I still think that along with a bat they could use a fourth outfielder to give Lorenzo Cain some days off down the stretch, but we’ll see if that actually happens. What’s interesting is the talk after the deal that the Royals are still checking out some available starting pitching. One name that has popped up recently and gained a ton of steam Thursday was Francisco Liriano, and I implore the Royals to run the other way. He’s having a rough season, giving up a ton of hits, walking a ton and not striking out enough to make up for it. His 5.99 ERA is in line with his 5.61 DRA and he’s making more than $13 million this year, which means he still has nearly $5 million owed to him. I just don’t see the point after they’ve picked up Cahill. If they feel the need to get another starter, I totally get it, but they need to be looking at guys like Lance Lynn, Jhoulys Chacin or a longer-term type like Dan Straily. It’s not that Lynn or Chacin are great or that Straily or even a Sonny Gray are attainable, but I don’t see the value in giving up anything, and that includes money, for a guy like Liriano. I’m just thankful there haven’t been any Mike Pelfrey rumors.
- Here’s some fun with runs scored for Royals fans. Remember back in April when they went 7-16 and scored 63 runs? Oh, you’d just gotten past that memory? Sorry. Well, it happened. They averaged 2.7 runs per game and were pacing to be one of the worst offenses of all time. Anyway, those 63 runs in April were pretty bad. To put how far the Royals have come into perspective, they’ve scored 63 runs in their eight game winning streak. Yes, they’d have to be shut out in each of the next 15 games in order to have a 23-game stretch as futile as their April, and even then, they’d still have a better record. Since May 1, the Royals have scored 374 runs and averaged 4.86 runs per game. The AL average this season is about 4.7 runs per game, so that description pretty much fits what I expected from this offense this season. They’ve hit .267/.318/.445 in that time with 103 homers. Their 19.6 percent strikeout rate is higher than the Royals teams that couldn’t be struck out, but it’s still pretty darn good. Their walk rate is still pretty horrible. Basically, when I predicted an 86-76 season, the team we’ve seen since getting out of that brutally bad April has been what I thought we’d see. Granted, their 46-31 record would have them on pace for 97 wins, but I still feel good about my prediction to start the year. To look at some projections. If they keep up their current 53-47 pace, they’d finish 86-76. If they keep up their pace since May 1, they’d finish 90-72. If they keep up their pace since starting 10-20, they’d finish 91-71. And if they keep up their pace since last week, they’d finish 115-47.