After Monday’s off day, the Royals control their own destiny.
They sit three games under .500 and 4.5 games behind current AL Central leader Cleveland. If they’re to make any noise at all in 2013, this is the time. They’ve weathered the awful May and still have some life. James Shields and Ervin Santana are both pitching great, Luis Mendoza is finally making me believe (no small feat), and the offense is at least hitting more homers right now, even if it’s still a fairly low amount.
The Royals get a shot at the new division leaders when they open up a three game series against the Indians in Kansas City. They’re 3-4 this year against Cleveland so it’s tough to call for a sweep, but they have to get two out of three to get some momentum going. But the schedule just keeps staying tough from there. There’s a series against Oakland, then a four game set in New York. Remember that both of those teams swept the Royals in May. Then it’s back to Cleveland before the All-Star break.
Those three teams are a combined 135-112 before Tuesday’s games, a .546 winning percentage. That’s not a favorable 13 game stretch. And after that? Detroit and Baltimore come to town. Their combined record is 90-74, a .548 winning percentage. The Royals have to win 12 of their next 20 to get above .500 after that stretch. They’re 6-12 against these teams in 2013. If they can manage, some of those wins will help get them close to the top of the division, but short of sweeping both Indians series and the Tigers series, it’s hard to see them in the lead when they play the White Sox on the 26th.
That brings up a lot of ifs.
The Royals can survive that stretch IF:
- Wade Davis rebounds from his awful start on Saturday. He was pretty good in June and his FIP suggests he should be better than he’s been.
- Jeremy Guthrie can get hot again. He went through a great stretch to start the year, but it was due to some factors that were due to crash back to earth.
- Billy Butler can add some power to his impressive June numbers. He’s gotten overlooked because of the resurgence of Eric Hosmer, but Butler had a .323/.423/.430 line in June, but with only one homer.
- Alex Gordon gets back in gear. His overall numbers don’t look bad, but he had just three extra base hits in June and it was a miserable time through most of the month. He ended the month with a three walk, one sac fly day, so perhaps that’s a sign that he’s seeing the ball better.
- Hosmer continues hitting the ball with authority. If he can rattle off another 5-6 home run month, the lineup will be better off for it.
- Nobody gets hurt. At this stage, an injury to James Shields, Salvador Perez, or basically anyone else would create problems. The Royals don’t have upper minors depth to toss in and fill a gap in the case of injury. Danny Duffy has had two good starts in Omaha, but he’s still working back to full strength and Felipe Paulino‘s rehab was put on hold while he waits out a back strain and shoulder soreness. Neither can be relied upon for anything this year as of now. That can change, but the Royals have to go forward like this is the team, and they have to stay healthy to keep that in motion.
- Mike Moustakas can keep creeping back up to relevance. He improved in late June just when it seemed he was teetering on the brink of a demotion.
- Johnny Giavotella becomes a spark plug. He took advantage of his first game back at least, but he has to do more than he has so far as a Royal, both for himself and for the team. Royals second basemen had a .233/.264/.309 line entering Sunday’s game. It’s been a black hole all season.
- David Lough can keep up his performance. Long-term, I don’t think anyone expects Lough to be a regular, but he can be a great fill in. If the rest of the lineup can step it up, Lough’s less of a concern. He’d just have to hold his own.
- The bullpen can get its groove back. I know – they’ve been great as a group most of the year, but Tim Collins and Aaron Crow are allowing too many baserunners. Bruce Chen is putting too many on as well, but whoever steps in behind him strands them – unfortunately he’s allowed 10 of 12 inherited runners to score. Kelvin Herrera is trying to get his confidence back in Omaha, and I just can’t trust J.C. Gutierrez.
- Greg Holland continues to be a beast. Other than a couple of early hiccups, he’s been a burden on opposing hitters. He has 50 strikeouts in just 30 innings. That’s one more than each of Mendoza and Guthrie in a fraction of their innings.
But most importantly, they have to win games. Treading water won’t cut it.
The Royals still have the best ERA in the American League and as long as they have pitching, they have a shot. The window may not be that wide, though, if the offense can’t get moving.
If, after this upcoming stretch, the Royals are still under .500, they’ll have a lot of ground to make up and a lot less schedule with which to do it. These are difficult teams to play, but with six against the Indians and three against the Tigers, they have the opportunity to get a win and put a loss on the teams they’re chasing at the same time. If they can, things get interesting.
If they can’t, I’m afraid they’ll be too far down to storm back again.