This has been a different Kansas City Royals team since the All-Star break.
Heading into this afternoon’s game with the Chicago White Sox — with a chance for a rare three-game road sweep — the Royals are a moving-in-the-right-direction 7-5.
Included among those 12 games are a pair of 10-run offensive outbursts. In June, there were weeks where the Royals didn’t score 10 runs total.
The youth movement is officially on in Kansas City, except for old warhorse Alex Gordon, who turned back the hands of time on Wednesday by homering and driving in four runs. Gordon had only one homer and five RBIs the entire month of July as he hit a paltry .203.
The other key link to the cherished past, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, has been on a tear since the break. You knew Salvy was far better than the .211 hitter he was for the first 3 1/2 months of the season and he’s still young enough to be at the epicenter of this rebuild.
You see a hungriness from this team. It doesn’t seem to matter who Ned Yost sends out, they’re all playing hard night after night. Rosell Herrera is a player who has been particularly impressive and Yost is now trying him at third base. You just wonder what the plans are when, or if, Cheslor Cuthbert — long groomed as Mike Moustakas’ replacement — returns. Cuthbert could very well find himself playing elsewhere next year.
Position players like Herrera, Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin and Ryan O’Hearn are going to be given every opportunity over these final 2 months to state their case to be 2019 starters. Phillips came in the Moustakas trade, Goodwin came over from Washington and sparkled until getting hurt and O’Hearn showed a lot of promise in spring training with some monstrous homers, but needed more seasoning.
What the Royals will need moving forward, more than anything else, is an upgrade in pitching. It’s pretty clear Danny Duffy is still being counted on to head the rotation and when Ian Kennedy returns, he’ll be slotted in at No. 2. He has a contract the team can’t eat and there’s nobody standing in line to take him off the Royals’ hands.
As for now, Jakob Junis, Heath Fillmyer and Burch Smith will probably take regular turns in the rotation as Yost is going to put them out there and let them sink or swim. Junis looked the like the Junis of the first six weeks in claiming the win on Wednesday as his slider was biting and he kept the ball in the park for the most part as he’s been plagued by the gopher virus (including a homer on the first pitch of the game against the White Sox).
The bullpen is still ghastly, as few pitchers have stepped up with any consistency.
The Royals still have plenty of divisional games left, which helps. The AL Central, other than Cleveland, is an eyesore for Major League Baseball as four teams are under .500, and the Royals and White Sox are headed toward 100 losses.
With this year already written off, the Royals can relax these final 2 months and salvage what they can as they are already starting on 2019. When I spoke with General Manager Dayton Moore when he was in McPherson recently, it was clear he doesn’t want this to be a slow-and-painful rebuild. Hopefully it won’t be.