It's on the line for the Royals this weekend

By Steve Sell
July 10, 2014

Thursday’s thoughts...

• ROYALS NEED BIG WEEKEND — It was less than 20 games ago that the Kansas City Royals were sailing along with a 10-game winning streak and had ascended to the top of the American League Central standings.

As quickly as they touched the sky, they plummeted back to earth. A rocky 3-6 homestand, plus Detroit taking off on a pitching-induced run, helped push the Royals back into second place.

They are now 4 1/2 games back of the Tigers when they begin the most pivotal series of the year tonight at Kauffman Stadium, as the teams hook up for four headknockers that could greatly change the course of the season for both

The 4 1/2-game deficit actually is somewhat of a misnomer as the Royals actually are six games back in the loss column, which is the number that really matters. 

Kansas City must, at all costs, do no worse than a split. It can ill afford being swept, and losing three of four would make the deficit 6 1/2 at the All-Star break, which can be overcome but would require a second-half run similar to last year when the Royals were one of baseball’s best teams.

It’s quizzical why the Royals can’t play better at home, as they are a game under .500, but five-over on the road. Maybe it’s because they rank 26th out of 30 teams (just ahead of baseball-dead Miami) in attendance, as the usual 22,000 diehards or so seem to show up each night, which leaves nearly half the stadium disguised as empty seats.

Kansas City fans have been let down by this team for so many years that they’re skeptical. I fully expect close to 30,000 tonight for the all-important opener, but won’t approach that number the rest of the weekend if they lose. Royals fans simply haven’t caught on that they’re for once in a pennant race, even if the season is barely half over.

The Royals, unfortunately, go into this series hamstrung. Jason Vargas, the team’s most consistent starter, is out perhaps for three weeks after suffering an appendectomy on Wednesday. All-Star outfielder Alex Gordon could be out with a bad wrist, perhaps longer than first anticipated. This is a team that doesn’t have enough quality depth to overcome a loss of key players.

The Royals do have momentum on their side as they are coming off a spiritual, come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay when Salvador Perez’s ninth-inning moonshot wiped out a 4-2 deficit. They haven’t had a lot of signature moments this year (only one walk-off victory the entire season), but if they take off on a streak, they’ll look back at Perez’s blast as a potential turning point in the season.

• LEBRON, PLEASE SIGN — Enough already of where LeBron James is going to end up.

While baseball features exciting pennant races, the World Cup reaches its apex on Saturday, we just completed tradition-rich Wimbledon and NFL training camps are just around the corner, the lead story on every sports outlet is: where is LeBron going to end up?

ESPN brain-hurting barkers Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless babble about this ad nauseam on their midday show, which is one of my lunchtime staples. It’s also the lead story on Sport Center in all of its time slots.

Hopefully LeBron isn’t going to make a spectacle this time when he makes his announcement. Who’ll ever forget the pomp and circumstance when the Big 3 announced their intentions of revolutionizing the landscape of the NBA when they committed to Miami? They (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) have made four straight NBA Finals, winning two. But it’s clear not all is well in Hoops Utopia, as Bosh could be heading to Houston and LeBron could be going back home to Cleveland —  why I don’t know since the Cavaliers’ roster is littered with failed No. 1 draft picks other than Kylie Irving. Wade has been almost a statue, as he’s waiting for all the dominos to fall.

Then, of course, piggybacking LeBron’s destination is where will Carmelo Anthony wind up? To me, Anthony hasn’t done that much to warrant so much attention, as he hasn’t come close to winning an NBA title and he’s a me-first player who only seems to be interested in how many shots he can launch.

I just want it over and done with. Then, of course, we’ll have a two-week breakdown of why the players chose the teams they did.