Royals finally finding their stride

By Steve Sell
August 17, 2016

At long last the Kansas City Royals are finally getting hot.

After hitting rock bottom at seven games under .500 at 51-58, the Royals have started the slow climb back to the break-even mark, which can be achieved tonight with a win over Detroit, one of the teams they are chasing in the American League wild-card race.

What has to excite Royals fans is that after tonight they have a four-game home series with Minnesota, which lost two of three to the Royals last week and quite honestly looked like a team mailing it in. Sunday's game was a defensive debacle for the Twins with four errors and about three other plays that should have been ruled errors, but the official scorer apparently was in a generous mood —unless he was laughing so hard because it looked like the Keystone Cops in the field.

There's no secret to the Royals' run of eight wins in the last 10 games — starting pitching. Except for the No. 5 spot in the rotation where the Royals continue to give away games, the foursome of Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Edinson Volquez is in its best stretch of the season.

Duffy's transformation from a sub-.500 pitcher to a Cy Young Award candidate is astounding. No longer does he run his pitch counts up to 80 in four innings. Everytime he takes the mound you just know the Royals are going to win, which is the sign of an ace.

Ventura has been better lately, he just has to avoid combusting with the home run ball. Kennedy has been rock-solid the last month and Volquez, while extremely hittable, battles as hard as any pitcher in the game. His stuff just isn't that good anymore, but it's not because of a lack of effort.

The Royals have suffered from a paucity of home runs, but Tuesday night's stunning four-homer outburst came out of left field. Hopefully they won't go up to the plate thinking home run, because that's not who they are. But every once in a while it's nice to see the ball leave the park multiple times in a game.

I had started a column for today about how the Royals' Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have struggled terribly. Hosmer finally ended his homer drought on Tuesday, but consider these facts:

Hosmer’s season numbers look OK (16 homers, 67 RBIs and .271 batting average). But take away the first two months and it would look like a bad year. Baseball is a numbers game and Hosmer’s since May 31, are rather sickly.

In June, the supposed power source hit two homers, drove in 13 and batted .253. It should be pointed out that both of his homers came in the same game. That means in the 27 games he played in June, he was homerless in 26 of them.

Move on to July. He batted an even .200 with three homers and 10 RBIs. Not a lot of production in 95 at-bats.

August isn’t going much better, so let's hope last night was a kick-start. Hosmer is hitting .211 and until last night had just two extra-base hits — both doubles. Not the kind of numbers that suggest that he would be worthy of a 10-year, $200 million contract that his agent reportedly has been throwing around. At least he's still playing top-caliber defense, but he's paid to hit.

Hosmer is one of those guys, who while very good, seemingly has underachieved. A lot of scouts thought he’d be a 30-homer, 100-RBI and .300 guy. But he has yet to hit 20 homers in a season and struggles to get the ball airborne. For someone as strapping as Hosmer and who takes such a big swing, it just seems like he could do so much more. I know Kauffman Stadium is where home run hitters go to die, but he should have off-the-chart power.

Perez’s season likewise has fallen off the cliff. His power numbers of 16 homers and 51 RBIs are still better than most catchers, though his average has sunk to .256. His defense, though, is peerless.

Salvy at least waited until July to start his swoon. For the month he was at .205 with three homers and eight RBIs. August has seen even more of a falloff, as he’s at .193 with a homer and six RBIs. 

I can make the excuse for both that they’re just worn down. Hosmer has played nearly every game for 2 1/2 years, then factor in all those high-pressure playoff games. Perez catches more games than perhaps any player in baseball. At some point fatigue simply causes the body to become lethargic, especially in Perez’s case.

Hosmer and Perez are good players. But on a team that at times is severely offensively challenged, the Royals need so much more from them. Given the Royals are on a hot streak, just think how sizzling they would be if Hosmer and Perez can find their form of the first two months.