June 14, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35), relief pitcher Tim Collins (55) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) congratulate catcher Brayan Pena (27) in the ninth inning of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

The Roller Coaster Royals

I don’t know what’s gotten into the Royals the last few days but I like it.

In a season that’s seen a complete 0-fer during the first homestand as part of a 12 game losing streak and countless injuries to key players,  the Royals are a mere five games back in the AL Central.

It’s a tough place to be as a fan because on one hand, the Royals are on a four game winning streak – but it’s only a four game winning streak. They’re not far removed from a dreadful series against Pittsburgh where they’d gotten swept.

On the other hand, a lot of things are going right at the moment. The Royals had a laughable looking matchup to open the Brewers series, but Alex Gordon seemed to pick that series to wake up and Luis Mendoza somehow outdueled Zack Greinke. The next night, the Royals literally walked off with a win, as Mike Moustakas earned* a free pass to force the winning run home.

*The key pitch in that at bat to me was the second ball, a 1-0 curve in the dirt. I recall Lee Warren and others suggesting that Moose in Triple A loved to go after that pitch. It was definitely thrown as a chase pitch and Moose ignored it.

Then things started getting really weird.

June 14, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder

Thursday night, the Royals were struggling at the plate as has been usual when a 2-1 lead turned into a 2-2 tie then a 3-2 deficit. Going into the bottom of the ninth, Mitch Maier was set to lead off in the five hole (after a Jeff Francoeur ejection) and struck out. Fortunately for him, the ball went all the way back to the backstop and he made it to first easily, then moved over on a groundout. After an Alcides Escobar strikeout, Jarrod Dyson worked a walk to bring up pinch-hitting Brayan Pena. You’ve probably seen the play already, as Pena slapped a single down the left field line to score Maier easily as Dyson settled on third. Apparently, the first baseman wasn’t covering and Pena alertly made a turn towards second base, drawing a throw from the shortstop. Dyson, ever the opportunist, was drifting off third already and broke home. Rickie Weeks fumbled the catch, then rushed his throw and Dyson slid in safe for a crazy score-from-first-on-a-single win.

It got weirder.

Vin Mazzaro shut out the Cardinals for six innings. Vin Mazzaro. “Worst relief outing ever” Vin Mazzaro. Roman Colon, a weird selection to promote to Kansas City, almost blew the game but the bullpen stopped the bleeding. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Tyler Greene stole second, advanced to third on throw that hit him and rolled into shallow left-center and turned home after Chris Getz made a wide throw to third. A perfect throw by Moustakas and a great block by Humberto Quintero got the out on a 2-6-4-5-2 putout at home.

This latest run of wackiness has inspired some hope.

The Royals are six games under .500 with Bruce Chen going tonight. Luke Hochevar has looked a lot better. Luis Mendoza isn’t the gasoline can I expected him to be. The bullpen is among the best in baseball. Alex Gordon has reached base in every game since being put back in the leadoff spot (and the last game he started there in the lineup and didn’t reach was in the third game of the year). Eric Hosmer is hitting .289/.365/.511 and has struck out just four times in June.

Not to mention that Salvador Perez should be back by the end of the month. Lorenzo Cain should return at some point as he tries out another rehab assignment. Wil Myers is still raking  and, according to MLB Trade Rumors, the specter of the Super Two deadline may be gone, so if the Royals feel he’s ready, he could make it up to the big leagues soon, as could Jake Odorizzi. Felipe Paulino, who’s looked great, will return as well.

I wouldn’t say there’s a lot going right, because so much already went wrong, but the Royals didn’t let the big losing streak bury them to start the year, they’ve scrapped their way out of slumps, they’ve gotten some tough starting pitching lately and they’re looking like a team on the rise. They’ve won in such strange ways the last few days that it has Rany scratching his head.

Then again, the last time they won four in a row, they turned around and lost seven of their next nine games, so let’s not start printing up playoff tickets just yet.

What interests me is the swings of being a fan during a season like this. Immense hope and optimism coming in – Our Time – gets dashed right away after a losing streak. Key players slump. Injuries continue to pile up. It starts to feel like any other Royals season but perhaps worse because for the first time in a while, there were bigger expectations.

Then a four game winning streak and everyone’s excited again.

It makes me wonder what will happen if the Royals get to .500 or within a game of first place. The decisions we complained about when the Royals were staving off the Twins for last would be that much more important, or they’d feel that way at least. A bad at bat feels more devastating. A pitcher left in too long inspires more rage than before. The swings could be crazy.

Back when the Royals hosted the Yankees this season, I talked with Ricky Keeler over on our Yankees site Yanks Go Yard, asking him just what it’s like being a fan when you know your team is going to be in the hunt all year. At the time, he warned me to take every game one at a time, that the wins feel like something’s still lurking and every loss feels like the end of the world.

Maybe it’s heightened in a New York atmosphere, but it feels like that’s how it is already in Kansas City. We win four in a row and many still say “yeah, but they’re still the Royals”. There’s always a big, scary losing streak waiting around the corner, ready to jump out.

Until then, it’s been a fun week and I hope to see the fun continue.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Brayan Pena Eric Hosmer Humberto Quintero Jarrod Dyson Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals MLB Royals Vin Mazzaro

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