Through all the ups and downs, from the wretched 7-16 start to the blistering 18-6 stretch that got them back into contention, the Kansas City Royals find themselves just a game over .500 at 44-43 going into the All-Star break.
Yes siree, it’s been quite the roller-coaster ride. The Royals were baseball’s worst team in April, winning just 7 of 23 games. Their offense couldn’t approach 4 runs, their starting pitchers couldn’t last into the sixth inning and when they did get a lead, Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera were there to give it right back.
The Royals were still meandering until they went on a West Coast trip against San Diego, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Angels. A 7-2 excursion put KC back in it and then it followed that up by winning two of three against both Boston and Toronto.
The Royals were finally cooled off just before the break when a team even hotter than them, the Los Angeles Dodgers, sent them into the All-Star week with three straight losses.
Still, being 3 games back of AL Central leader Cleveland and just 1 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot give the Boys in Blue some hope.
When you consider all that went wrong, it’s a miracle.
Alex Gordon, perhaps feeling the weight of his oversized contract, simply looks like he’s forgotten how to hit. Jorge Soler, for whom KC gave up prized reliever Wade Davis, is an unmitigated bust. That 2/3 of your starting outfield and when they’re both hitting under .200, that puts so much pressure on the rest of the lineup.
Brandon Moss has failed miserably as the DH in place of the reliable Kendrys Morales. He’s also under .200 and has just 16 RBIs, though he has hit 10 homers. I’m sure there’s no other team in baseball that has three regulars under the Mendoza Line.
But Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez have been warriors. Whit Merrifield has been a revelation. Jorge Bonifacio has been a surprise though he’s cooled a bit. Alcides Esocbar is finally starting to heat up, but he was in the Mendoza Club for more than two months.
The starting pitching has been forgettable, but gets a pass for all the injuries. Take away Jason Vargas and it would be nightmarish. But Vargas’ 12-3 record has propped up the rotation where Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy and Nathan Karns have struggled and Karns is now out for the year. Danny Duffy missed significant time, but should be strong since he hasn’t pitched many innings.
Through it all, the team has treaded water. It’s beat-up bullpen finally got its act together and has managed to hold most leads, except for Soria. It’s still a team that is wildly sporadic offensively and I hope that the 7 runs scored against the Dodgers wasn’t a signal that everybody is getting cold at the same time again like they were in April.
Then of course you have the stigma of July 31 staring them right between the eyes. KC has a 10-game homestand right after the break and if it swoons to 2-8 or 3-7, you’ll hear cries of “sell, sell, sell” again. The Royals have five high-profile players who can walk after this year. I think as long as there’s any semblance of chance on the 31st, they have to hang on to their assets.
The way I see it, the Royals’ fate will be decided by that first homestand. If they go 5-5 or better, they’re in it to win it.