Royals Win in 13 — Gordon Closer to Returning to a Stronger Team

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This past weekend Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said he would be heading out on a rehab assignment as early as this coming weekend. That is great news for the American League’s best team. After tonight’s 3-1 extra-inning win, the Royals (72-46) have gone 23-13 (.638) in the 36 games without Gordon, surprisingly at a first glance, a BETTER winning percentage than they were with him (49-33/.598). But, with the moves the improvements the Royals made before the trade deadline, the Royals are a MUCH better team now than they were July 8 when Gordon went down with groin injury.

Those additions – ace Johnny Cueto (2-1 as a Royal in four starts with a 1.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP in 30 innings – better than his season numbers of 9-7, 2.46 ERA (0.93 WHIP) despite playing a grown ass man hitter’s league) and versatile do it all Ben Zobrist, have more than compensated for the loss of the All-Star Gordon. Adding his strong OBP bat (.394) to the lineup, and Platinum Glove to the field, will be huge for the already strengthened team.

Zobrist hit a game-tying HR tonight to leadoff the ninth inning in his first time facing Reds All-Star flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. It was only the second homer Chapman had allowed all season and it snapped his MLB record 56 consecutive successfully converted save opportunities. It was Zobrist’s fourth HR as a Royal and continued clutch play since coming to Kansas City. But, his patience at the plate (fifth-best in MLB walk rate – every 5.71 plate appearances) has offered Royals what they lost in losing Gordon.

Like Gordon, his ability to draw walks (12 in 17 games), as well as his 4 HR (more HR than doubles/triples), Zobrist has produced a .344 (21-61)/.452/.590 slash – good for a 1.042 OPS. He also drove in a run in 13th, extending the Royals lead to 3-1, wrapping up his 2-for-6 night. Earlier in the inning, pitcher Kris Medlen, who looked the part as a legit MLB hitter, put down a perfect sac bunt that ended up scoring Jarrod Dyson, who singled, all the way from first when pitcher Ryan Mattheus threw the ball away. Medlen struck out two working around a single in the 12th, earning his first win since September 27, 2013.

Greg Holland locked down his 27th save, walking one and striking out two to move the Royals to 26 games above .500 for the first time since 1980 – 35 years – while extending AL Central lead to 13.5 games and lowering Magic Number to 31.

After Edinson Volquez (6 IP, 1 ER, 7 K) got out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth (his eight start in 2015 of at least six innings and just one run), the Royals bullpen – Ryan Madson, Chris Young, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Franklin Morales, Medlen and Holland (everyone expect Luke Hochevar) – allowed just one hit (three runners) in seven scoreless innings. Good news for a struggling bullpen.

Eugenio Suarez homered in the first inning for the Reds, who recorded just four more hits the rest of the game. The Royals had two runs taken away from them in the first inning when left fielder Marlon Byrd, who went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts, made a sliding catch on a Salvador Perez, who went 2-6, liner. In the ninth, after Zobrist tied the game with his homerun, Lorenzo Cain singled, stole second and third before being caught in a run down after a safe call was overturned via replay.

The Royals have now won seven straight games that went 13 or more innings and are 8-2 in extra innings this year. After losing 39 in a row when losing entering the ninth inning, the Royals have won two in a row in that situation and have won nine of their last 11. The Royals pitchers struck out 16 batters tonight as the Reds have now scored just two runs against the Royals in three games (31 innings) this year. The fourth and final game of the season series, already won by the Royals (3-0), comes tomorrow.

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Since Gordon has been sidelined for over a month, it seems likely that he’ll need multiple games with Omaha before the Royals feel comfortable activating him, but he should still return before September 1. No surprise really, with Gordon’s work ethic. The Royals could wait till September when the roster expands so they won’t have to make a roster move, but they could easily send Orlando down and call him back up a week or so later when the calendar strikes September.

Hopefully Ned will use Gordon near the top of the order as he has Zobrist. We shall see. Gordon’s return to the lineup would likely push Zobrist to second base, and Omar Infante, in a current 0-23 slide, from an everyday role. Zobrist would probably also see some time in right field for the again-slumping Alex Rios.

Over this past weekend, there has also been talk of the Royals looking to make Alex Gordon a Royal for life. CBS’ John Heyman mentions here:http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/writer/jon-heyman/25269795/royals-will-aim-to-make-alex-gordon-a-royal-for-life.

Gordon would be the first player since George Brett to play an extended, successful career in Kansas City if the Royals could convince him to sign and make his #foreverRoyal. That will be no easy task. Gordon is coming off his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and third straight All Star selection, and while he isn’t an offensive superstar, he is very good at what he does. He gets on base. Teams value that, as they should. For his career, Gordon has reached base at a .349 clip and he had been even better this season. No Royal has been better at getting on base from 2011-2015 than Gordon.

At this point, it is somewhat difficult to project what the Royals might have to pay in order to keep Gordon here beyond 2015. If he comes back from this current injury on fire and helps carry the Royals through another great playoff run, his price tag could skyrocket into the $100 million+ range. We’d all certainly be happy with that playoff part. If he cannot seem to get things going, it could be an entirely different story. Either way, the Royals will likely have to pay him more than his current player option ($12.5M for 2016) annually to retain the fan favorite.

For now, I’m hoping that first scenario plays out. Last October was a lot of fun, and I want to do that again.

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