Skeptical Optimism and the Royals


In Pittsburgh, the Royals looked rough at the plate, awful on defense and ended up dropping all three games to the Pirates.

They rebounded pretty nicely, though.

A return trip home was just right for the Royals, as they used late inning heroics to sweep the Brewers, take a series against the Cardinals, and unleashed a stifling mix of bullpen arms to get past the Astros. As they head home for the last interleague series of the year, they’re 7-2 in their last three series, taking their wins by a combined margin of nine runs.

After Tuesday’s 2-0 win, the TV broadcast team noted a surprising stat. The Royals are second in the American League in shutouts. Even with a rough looking starting rotation and a slew of injuries, the Royals have reached that distinction.

This past week-plus showed one Royals blogger that this is a tougher team than we’d thought during their 12 game losing streak in April. In May and June (so far), the Royals are 25-21.

The result of the recent surge has the Royals five games under .500 and four and a half games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

All this without their long-time closer. All this with a struggling Eric Hosmer through the first two months of the year. All this with 10 different starting pitchers, two of which have had significant injury battles (Danny Duffy is out after Tommy John surgery; Felipe Paulino opened the year on the DL and is currently rehabbing for a return later in the month).

All this without their future franchise catcher.

It’s way too early to get worked up and start cutting paper for the parade on the Plaza, but it’s encouraging to see a team that looked like any other team from 2004 to the present for stretches of April make such a different impact as the season approaches its midpoint. Eric Hosmer started out with a surge in June but has cooled a bit. Still, he’s doing much better than he had performed in April and May. Alex Gordon looked to be regressing back to the same hitter we’d grown frustrated with, but moving back to the leadoff spot has worked wonders, as he’s gotten on base all but one game since and usually reaches multiple times a game.

Then, when their bullpen needed as much rest as possible – the Royals got about 70% of their innings from the bullpen in the last two games of the St. Louis series – they managed to get six innings out of Jonathan Sanchez and two (rough) innings from Louis Coleman. The following night, Luke Hochevar turned in a great start and ate up another 7.2 innings.

Now Paulino is close to a return. Now Salvador Perez is close to a return. Eventually, Wil Myers will have wiped out any excuses the Royals could make to say he shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Lorenzo Cain might even make it through this latest rehabilitation assignment.

Those are three good pieces for this team. Perez has been on fire during his rehab assignment and could be back up as early as Friday’s opener at home against the Cardinals. Paulino is about a week away, and Myers could show up at any time now that the Super Two deadline is projected to have passed.

It’s counting on a lot to say that the trio will lead to a resurgence, but Paulino was the best starter the Royals had before his groin injury. Myers has hammered more homers than Clint Robinson, minor league superstar and the former Texas League Triple Crown winner in 2010, in more than 100 fewer at bats. Perez offers a lot more behind the plate and with the bat than either of Humberto Quintero and Brayan Pena.

Will those three be enough to push the Royals to some kind of push in the division? They’ve gotten some solid starts out of Vin Mazzaro which has surprised nearly everybody and at some point, even with a taxi squad in Omaha, the bullpen could fade in the second half after so many innings.

The 2012 season has been a target of sorts while we wait out The Process. Some have jumped on Dayton Moore for being in year six of his rebuilding effort while other teams have made quicker strides. Setbacks have occurred, but it is frustrating to see teams turn things around much quicker. Still, the latest stretch has show the Royals that they don’t always need the biggest output at the plate to win.

Most nights, three or four runs won’t be enough, but on some nights it is, fortunately. Right now, the Royals are learning how to make that happen. That’s a lesson that teams of the last decade never managed to pick up.

Now, though, it’s Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar on the field during these close wins. Its Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera holding the lead for Jonathan Broxton. Pieces of future championship teams are learning how to win the tough games – against National League opponents at least.

Here’s to hoping it sticks. Optimism is a fun feeling, even if there’s the conditioned twinge of skepticism still hanging around.