KC Royals: Alex Rios Playing Himself Into Playoff Picture
By John Viril
KC Royals outfielder Alex Rios has overcome his season-long struggles with a strong final month, playing his way into the playoff picture.
In the eight games since his return from chickenpox, the 34-year-old Alex Rios is hitting a healthy .321/.333/.607 for an OPS of .940. That performance continues the upward trend of his last 28 days, in which the free-agent outfielder has slashed .389/.393/.630 in 56 plate appearances.
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Pretty much any way you slice it, Alex Rios has simply been getting it done lately.
The upswing comes just in time for Alex Rios’ hopes of playing a significant role for the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. KC Royals manager Ned Yost has waited patiently for Rios to find his stroke through August. Finally, Yost’s perseverance seems to be paying off.
After a horrendous first half which saw Alex Rios hit a paltry .238/.266/.288 with 1 home run in 169 plate appearances. Rios has hit a much more acceptable .280/.315/.423 for an OPS+ of exactly 100 (league average) in the second half.
While that improvement hardly seems compelling, Alex Rios’ last month has been much more what the Kansas City Royals were hoping for when they signed him to a one-year, $11 million contract last winter. In short, he’s been a middle-of-the-order hitter in the last month.
The KC Royals signed Alex Rios last winter hoping to get more lineup pop from right field over incumbent Nori Aoki (who signed with the Giants). That hope proved futile through the first half of the season, when Aoki hit .317/.383/.385. However, Aoki has struggled since a July injury to hit a mere .204/.267/.366 in 101 second-half plate appearances.
Rios was a bounce-back candidate after suffering through an injury plagued 2014 in which he hit .280/.311/.389 with 17 stolen bases and only four home runs due to a broken right hand.
Alex Rios started off spring training—and the first week of the season—looking like he would be a bargain, but broke his left pinky finger. He went on the 15-day disabled list and wallowed for the next two months upon his return. The Kansas City Royals hope that Alex Rios first-half struggles were due to weakness in BOTH hands, and that his recent turn-around represents a return to health.
The KC Royals can certainly use the help. Caught in a September funk that seems to have infected every aspect of the team except the defense, the Kansas City Royals have needed everything Alex Rios has given them. With only a 5-10 record in September, the KC Royals are barely hanging onto the American League’s best record (and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs) with a mere two game lead over the hard-charging Blue Jays.
Whether Alex Rios is finally healthy for the first time since his solid 2013 season (.278/.324/.432 with 18 home runs and 42 stolen bases), or he’s just getting hot at the right time, doesn’t really matter.
KC Royals fans just hope Alex Rios can continue to produce through October.