May was awful. Considering the expectations placed on the Royals for 2013, it was nearly disastrous. Playoff caliber teams really don’t go 8-20 in a month.
There were many reasons for the slide, and we’ve discussed them to death. Nobody wants to relive last month. This is a new one, and the Royals are enjoying a six game winning streak and a 7-2 record in June, a stretch that has them three games under .500 and just five and a half games back of the Detroit Tigers.
Here’s the thing, though. Not much has changed between May and now. Sure, the Royals shuttled Jack Maloof and Andre David out of the picture and brought in George Brett, and perhaps that brought in some extra energy, but as Sam Mellinger pointed out in a Monday column, the offense hasn’t improved since Brett’s taken over. The same offensive holes in the lineup are still there. The power-hitting is still rare.
What they’ve been riding is a great stretch of starting pitching. In the month of June, the Royals pitching staff has given up 13 earned runs in nine games. Their starters have covered 56.2 innings and the only J.C. Gutierrez has given up a run out of the bullpen. Greg Holland has been lights out. Kelvin Herrera has returned to 2012 form. Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have worked key innings. The Royals lead the American League in team ERA.
That’s how you can win games while not scoring runs and the Royals are taking advantage while the group is hot. To an extent, it’s a sort of regression from the low-scoring games the Royals had lost previously. Usually over the course of a big league season, those things even out and the Royals are benefiting now.
While the opportunity is there, they’re taking advantage, doing just enough to get ahead. On Monday, they scraped together three runs on two infield singles, an seeing eye single and a triple on a gap flare from Salvador Perez. It ended up being enough. On Sunday, they looked like they’d pressure Jordan Lyles all day while taking pitches in the first two innings, then he shut them down. They scraped by by stringing some hits together and grabbed the lead.
Now their job is to keep it going.
The pitching staff won’t be this dominant forever. Jeremy Guthrie put on a lot of runners on Monday and had to dance around them. James Shields got timely defensive plays to help him through a game where he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been in other games. Those won’t be the only shaky days they see, so the Royals will have to get more runs.
It seemed they got a boost from Salvador Perez’s return. Not so coincidentally, they started hitting him in the #3 spot shortly after he came back from bereavement leave and the Royals have won each game since.
So far, they’re combining great pitching with the return of a team leader and the emotional boost of a baseball icon in the dugout. That can help grind out some emotional wins while their luck turns. The pending return of Jarrod Dyson from the DL could give them another boost, but what they really need to see is more power from Eric Hosmer and more everything from Mike Moustakas. The Royals are hanging around three games under with four regulars carrying an OPS below .600, which is kind of amazing actually. Imagine if some of those players were hitting.
And imagine if they start now. The Royals are in a strange position of having their two blue chip prospects disappoint while their best overall hitter struggles to reach his typical numbers. And earlier, when Alex Gordon was raking, the Royals couldn’t get anybody on base to take advantage. If things click, they could get interesting.
The calendar can’t be dismissed either. The Royals played some tough teams in May and their record shows that they didn’t respond. Their current streak was started by stomping over the Twins and Astros. Not exactly the biggest challenge. But the Royals still won those games, and they were games they should have won. In May, those things didn’t happen.
Add it up and the Royals are taking advantage of some new advice, an emotional boost, a bit better luck, and a stellar pitching staff while getting a bit easier schedule to open the month. That’s a nice recipe for success.
Or maybe it’s just the Rally Sauce.