As we all know, the Kansas City Royals will be taking on the Cleveland Indians on ESPN2 on Sunday Night Baseball. This game will mark the second time this week that the Royals will have a nationally televised game, following their matchup against the New York Yankees this past Monday.
The game will be broadcast by Dan Shulman and former major league first baseman John Kruk in the booth, with Buster Olney reporting from the field. Earlier today, we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Olney about the Royals performance this season, and what he expects going forward.
KoK: On July 21, the Royals were 48-50. Since that point, they have gone 26-9 and have taken a game and a half lead over the Detroit Tigers in the Central. What has been the biggest reason for the Royals surge into first place?
BO: The Royals collection of talent. Their roster and depth are much better. The Royals have a great bullpen, an improved rotation and great outfield depth. The additions of Josh Willingham, Raul Ibanez and Jason Frasor have really helped the Royals moving forward. They may not have the stars that the Tigers have with Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer or Victor Martinez, but they have the depth that the Tigers don’t have.
KoK: Sunday’s starter, Danny Duffy, is presently third in the American League with a 2.47 ERA. What has clicked with him this season?
BO: I talked to Dayton Moore earlier today for my podcast, and he said the biggest difference with Duffy is his controlled effort. According to his minor league coaches, he had great talent and makeup, but needed to learn how to pitch. He’s doing that now. Duffy has worked on his delivery and how to control his velocity. Now, instead of trying to throw the ball through a door each time, he’s picking his spots with the fastball with maximum effect.
KoK: Is it possible that the Royals could look to extend Duffy and/or Yordano Ventura after this season?
BO: It would make sense to do so, but the Royals may be reticent about extending Ventura. With the recent rash of Tommy John surgeries, there is a growing unease about hard throwers that have not yet had the surgery. Since Duffy has had his Tommy John surgery already, it may be more likely that they look to lock him in instead of Ventura.
KoK: Alex Gordon has been the Royals best player this season. With the Royals in playoff contention, how strong of an MVP case do you think he has?
BO: If I had a vote, it would go to Mike Trout. He’s been the best player overall in baseball this season. Gordon would be second or third on my ballot. However, if the Angels collapse, or Trout gets hurt – and he has struggled a bit int he second half – the Gordon could have a chance. The acceptance of sabermetrics, and the use of those on the defensive side, would help Gordon’s case.
BO: I don’t think either come back. Butler’s price would need to go down, but if he is willing to accept less than his option, then he might return. Much like closers, the designated hitter is no longer valued as highly. Plus, the Royals could look to get Perez a few at bats at DH to keep his bat in the lineup and rotate players as most other teams do.
Shields is likely not going to return, just because of the cost. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, among other teams, have a need for starting pitching, and Shields is going to be an attractive piece. The Royals just can’t compete with them.
KoK: The Royals throwback offense has been able to generate just enough runs this season to help the pitching staff. Can that continue for the rest of the season?
BO: I don’t know. The Royals offense is sporadic. Actually, the Oakland A’s and the Royals are very similar, with great rotations and a stellar bullpen, but there are questions about the offense, even before the A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes. A lot depends on how Alex Gordon and Billy Butler perform, and what Eric Hosmer will be like down the stretch. I asked Moore about him, and he said that Hosmer may start a rehab assignment on Sunday. Even if he does, with the wrist injury, he may not be the same when he comes back. I’m not sure how he will be when he returns.
KoK: Finally, What are your expectations for the Royals over the final month of the season? Will they make the playoffs?
BO: I think they will make the playoffs. There were a few predictions I’d like to forget from the start of the season (Rays winning the AL East) but I picked the Royals as the Wild Card. Now, I think they will win the division, and they could make some noise in the playoffs. With their bullpen, starting rotation and defense, they could do some damage, and maybe even win the World Series if the offense produces.
Our thanks to Buster Olney for taking the time to answer these questions for us earlier today!