Entering play exactly one month ago today, the KC Royals were still the surprise of baseball, leading the American League Central with a 16-9 record going into an afternoon game at Minnesota. But at the end of the day, the Royals limped home after suffering a 13-4 defeat.
It was the first of 11 straight losses and made folks think the Royals might not be for real after all.
Now, preparing once again for the Twins, the Royals bear no resemblance to the team that owned the Central for almost a month. Last place is theirs alone, they’ve lost nine in a row, and Boston beat them 15-1 Thursday. Losing hovers over them like a dark cloud.
Tonight’s game with the Twins at Kauffman Stadium is the first of a critical 10-contest homestand for the KC Royals. By the time it ends July 11, and the team scatters for the All-Star Break, we’ll know whether anything other than another chapter in a wearying rebuild remains to this season. Minnesota is in for three games, Cincinnati follows for another three, and Cleveland finishes things with four.
The Royals are at a crossroad. A superb homestand keeps their slim hopes for October baseball alive; a bad one puts them too far behind the postseason eight-ball.
Expect all the visitors to be tough.
Even without Moose, Cincinnati should give the KC Royals a stiff test.
The Reds, current occupants of third place in the NL Central at 40-40, are second up for KC after Minnesota, but because Royals fans probably want to see one Red more than any other visiting player this homestand, they warrant first mention.
Unfortunately for his followers, though, former Royal Mike Moustakas won’t play. He’s on the Injured List and won’t return until at least mid-August.
Despite that loss, Cincinnati has more than enough power. Jesse Winker leads the club with 19 home runs, Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez have 16 apiece, Tyler Naquin has 12, and Joey Votto has 10. It’s a formidable fivesome for the Royals, who’ve surrendered the fifth most homers in the AL, to contend with.
And pitching? Sonny Gray is scheduled to come off the Injured List and pitch against the Cubs tonight; he’s 1-4 with a 3.42 ERA, and may well face Kansas City next week. So might Tyler Mahle (7-3, 3.74) and Wade Miley (6-4, 3.09). The Royals need to penetrate the bullpen—Reds’ relievers have the worst ERA (5.40) in the majors, have given up the most homers and second most runs and walks, and have the third worst WHIP.
Prediction: The K is big, so Cincinnati’s power may not be a great advantage. But the Royals’ starters aren’t good, the bullpen isn’t as good as it was, and KC hasn’t hit well for a long time. The Reds could win two of three.